Is it any wonder some people believe in 5G conspiracy theories after the leaders we’ve had?

James Moore
'Conspiracy theories are a symptom of a larger issue where people don't trust politics and feel left behind': EPA

“Ian” declares himself to be a “tower climber”, one of the guys who put up 5G masts.

Wearing a T-shirt bearing the legend “I stand for the flag, I kneel for the cross”, he wants us to believe that he took a $60,000 (£49,000) pay cut to quit the telecoms industry because of the terrible things it’s doing.

He then launches into a screed about 5G in which he sprays more manure than a farmer with several fields full of crops in need of fertilisation. Filmed on, you’ve guessed it, a mobile phone.

It includes a nod to the ker-azy coronavirus 5G theory. Ian mentions Wuhan, Italy and the UK. They’ve turned on 5G. Just look at your maps. Yes look! What you’ll find is that coronavirus is everywhere because it’s a virus, and they get around. So is 5G, at least it’s getting that way.

Shooting down Ian’s pseudoscientific technobabble is no more difficult than offing bots in the early stages of a Fortnite game.

But then, I have a science degree, and a pretty good idea when I’m hearing the theme from The Twilight Zone in my mind’s ear.

That’s not true of everyone and while Facebook might have taken down the main UK 5G Covid-19 conspiracy groups, the genie’s out of the bottle, and he’s up there in the 5G clouds spreading mayhem.

While I saw plenty of mockery in the comments below Ian’s video when I found it, there were also people thanking him for speaking out and others saying he should cover his head with shame for putting the masts up in the first place.

On the same day that I watched the video, I found he has plenty of fellow travellers on this side of the pond, according to research by clinical psychologists at the University of Oxford, published in the journal Psychological Medicine.

From 4 to 11 May 2020, 2,500 adults, representative of the English population for age, gender, region and income, took part in the Oxford Coronavirus Explanations, Attitudes, and Narratives survey.

When they were asked whether they agreed or not with the statement, “Coronavirus is caused by 5G and is a form of radiation poisoning transmitted through radio waves”, you’ll be pleased to know that a thumping 78.7 per cent said no, they did not.

That was one of the strongest responses, and possibly reflects the efforts made to kick the dribbling of Ian and his pals into touch. But despite that, 4.4 per cent said they agreed with that statement “a lot” and 1.8 per cent agreed “completely”.

That’s a bit more than one in every 16 people who still buy into the 5G coronavirus rubbish. So there is probably one of your neighbours who’s part of the club, maybe a member of your extended family. It’s a scary thought.

Here’s some more scary stuff.

Some 13.5 per cent, more than one in 10, agreed a lot or completely that the virus is a bioweapon developed by China to destroy the west.

Other statements with significant minority buy-in included, “Jews have created the virus to collapse the economy for financial gain” or “Muslims are spreading the virus as an attack on western values”.

You pays your money, you picks your prejudice, you tailors your story to fit it, I suppose.

Broadly, some 20 per cent felt, to some degree, that the virus is a hoax, which is one in every five people, 40 per cent believe that it’s spread as a deliberate attempt by powerful people to gain control, and 60 per cent that the government is misleading the public about the cause.

You can probably guess what’s coming: the researchers found that those who buy into some of the venomous fictions about the virus are less likely to follow government guidance when it comes to the lockdown. It’d be fascinating to look at the results if the researchers were to ask the same set of questions at an English beach during the current holiday weekend.

They may also be less likely to get vaccinated at such a time as one becomes available.

Earlier this week Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg told the BBC that he wanted the “widest possible aperture” for freedom of expression.

But there is a line to be drawn between legitimate opinion, which includes things you or I might not like, and noxious fiction peddled with nefarious intent.

Zuckerberg has said things which pose the prospect of real and imminent harm have been, and will continue to be, removed.

Given the results of the survey, it’s fair to question whether he can really see the line, and how complicit his empire has been in the spread of the attitudes the researchers found.

But it isn’t just Facebook.

The general mistrust of government the study uncovered is equally down to the way governments and political parties have behaved during the rise of the post-shame political culture that people such as Boris Johnson, Donald Trump and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro have ushered in.

When ministers and their spin doctors lie so often, and with such casual insouciance, is it any wonder that people are unwilling to listen when they’re telling the truth? And is it any wonder why they’re failing to follow the advice that’s been issued?

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