One of the latest conspiracy theories relating 5G technology to the coronavirus pandemic carries economic and religious overtones.
The elaborate theory widespread among Philippine Facebook groups strings together disparate narratives to support what it calls a “Satanic plan” and “organized one world agenda.”
It rehashes debunked claims that the novel coronavirus is bioengineered and that the fifth- generation or latest wireless mobile phone technology causes COVID-19. It then pins the blame on Dito Telecommunity, formerly Mislatel Consortium.
Dito Telecommunity, the country's third telco player, consists of Udenna Corp. and Chelsea Logistics Corp., both owned by Davao businessman Dennis Uy, and the Chinese state-owned China Telecommunications Corp.
The conspiracy theory further says a “5G vaccine with RFID chip” to be implanted in humans is being developed and links this “mark of the beast” to the impending rise of digital currency. The agenda, it claims, includes disrupting church services, so that “the Spirit of Anti-Christ can come.”
RFID chips refer to radio-frequency identification chips.
The localized conspiracy theory began spreading on Facebook in early April, notably across religious groups. It waned somewhat before gaining a second wind on May 10 when it was reposted on Facebook groups, including those of Duterte supporters.
More than a hundred groups have reposted the theory as of May 12, data from the social media monitoring tool Crowdtangle show.
The post reads in part:
HUMANDA NA TAYO SA (Let us prepare for the) MARK OF THE BEAST CORONA 5G VACCINE WITH RFID CHIP. THE CORONA PANDEMIC IS AN ORGANIZED ONE WORLD AGENDA!
They are making us sick to introduce the Mark of the Beast. They have TURNED ON the 5G SATTELITE FREQUENCY and they are trying to install the 5G dito via the MISLATEL TOWERS in our country and all over the world. Our Body is a natural Electrical Circuit and is getting sick because it is reacting with the 5G Satellite Frequency released in the atmosphere. The bioengineered Corona Virus is reacting with the 5G Signal that is why we are getting sick. To cure this disease, they are planning to give us the MARK OF THE BEAST - CORONA 5G VACCINE WITH RFID CHIP so that our body would better absorb the 5G Signal. Everyone could be detected even when they are in buildings or hideouts. The MARK OF THE BEAST is now being prepared. They are shutting global economy down. They are now creating the GLOBAL DIGITAL CURRENCY to replace the actual money and it will start in the United States and China and other countries. AMAZON and GOOGLE will be the Operating Platform to manage our daily lives. We will not be able to BUY or SELL WITHOUT THE MARK OF THE BEAST in the form of CORONA 5G VACCINE with RFID CHIP.
The World Health Organization has said there is no evidence that SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, was created in a lab. It said:
The full genetic sequence of SARS-CoV-2 from the early human cases and the sequences of many other virus isolated from human cases from China and all over the world since then show that SARS-CoV-2 has an ecological origin in bat populations. All available evidence to date suggests that the virus has a natural animal origin and is not a manipulated or constructed virus. Many researchers have been able to look at the genomic features of SARS-CoV-2 and have found that evidence does not support that SARS-CoV-2 is a laboratory construct.
WHO, along with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, an agency of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, has also dismissed the rumor that 5G cell phone technology is linked to COVID-19. It said:
5G mobile networks DO NOT spread COVID-19
Viruses cannot travel on radio waves/mobile networks. COVID-19 is spreading in many countries that do not have 5G mobile networks.
COVID-19 is spread through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes or speaks. People can also be infected by touching a contaminated surface and then their eyes, mouth or nose.
On the potential health risks from 5G, WHO said in February:
To date, and after much research performed, no adverse health effect has been causally linked with exposure to wireless technologies. Health-related conclusions are drawn from studies performed across the entire radio spectrum but, so far, only a few studies have been carried out at the frequencies to be used by 5G.
…Radiofrequency exposure levels from current technologies result in negligible temperature rise in the human body.
As the frequency increases, there is less penetration into the body tissues and absorption of the energy becomes more confined to the surface of the body (skin and eye). Provided that the overall exposure remains below international guidelines, no consequences for public health are anticipated.
Despite the clarification, the rumor had earlier gotten out of hand in some countries. In early April, conspiracy theorists were setting cellphone towers on fire in the U.K.
Before the pandemic-linked lockdown, Dito Technology, formerly Mislatel, had scheduled a “technical launch” in July, saying commercial services would begin in March 2021. It will first offer 4G LTE connectivity before moving to 5G.
To support its claim about RFID chips, the Philippine-specific conspiracy theory refers to an article on Disclose.tv titled “Human RFID Chips Will Not Be Optional and They Will 'Change' The Very Essence of What It Is To Be Human.”
The article was published March 29, 2018 and precedes the coronavirus outbreak. In fact, it discusses the pros and cons of RFID chips, even stressing that the downside “does not negate the upside in the form of convenience towards having these chips installed.”
While Disclose.tv mentioned concerns and fears over RFID chips, including “bacterial”—not viral like the novel coronavirus—or computer infections, it never concluded these have basis.
The more extreme concerns, it said, are the religious notion that the chips could be considered “the mark of the beast” or that the secret society Illuminati is using the chips to track and control people.
The article was written months after a firm in Wisconsin, USA, embedded microchips in employees to replace company badges and logons, kicking off a storm of controversy.
Disclose.tv cited Noelle Chelsley, a sociologist of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee who earlier told the USA Today that human chipping “will happen to everybody. But not this year, and not in 2018. Maybe not my generation, but certainly that of my kids.”
The claim that a coronavirus vaccine or “antivirus” with an RFID chip to track people is being developed is also old and has been debunked by the Pulitzer prize-winning Politifact. The earlier version identified the U.S. as supposedly developing the vaccine.
Wilbur Chen, an infectious-disease scientist at the University of Maryland’s Center for Vaccine Development and Global Health, called that the idea of a vaccine containing RFID technology “preposterous.” He told Politifact:
Even the smallest version of RFID chips are rather large such that none would ever fit into a vaccine needle — these are very small-bore needles. The RFID chips that are routinely used for the tracking of pets are as small as a grain of rice … or in other words, they are as large as a grain of rice, and no vaccine needles in use are that large in diameter.
Mark Fenster, a law professor at the University of Florida who has written extensively about conspiracy theories, also told Politifact:
The fear of insertion of tracking chips and other things like that into our bodies has been a longstanding bogeyman for theorists. There is a lot of tracking that goes on, but the suggestion that it’s being used in this manner and this way seems absurd. This comes from the stream of conspiracy theories of the last 50 years. It has nothing to do with science and everything to do with conspiracy theories.
In April, China did begin pilot-testing its homegrown digital currency across four cities. The U.S. is also being urged to develop a “digital dollar.” But there is no evidence linking digital money to the purported coronavirus vaccine.
In the Philippines, meanwhile, religious gatherings are not allowed only in areas under community quarantine. Many churches have been holding online services.
The photos that accompany the social media post about the 5G vaccine conspiracy theory are, like several of the allegations it makes, old.
The close-up shot of a microchip on a finger was taken May 10, 2002 by Rohan Wise of Agence France Presse. It shows the VeriChip, a product of Applied Digital Solutions, implanted for the first time in a family in Boca Raton, Florida. The caption also says the chips contain personal medical information acquired with a specialized digital reader.
A 2009 version of the other photo can be found online: It shows a left hand with no chip implant. The recent photo was altered: It was flipped and manipulated to show a small incision and what seems to be a chip embedded in the skin.
A Vox explainer said research from Zignal Labs, an impact intelligence platform that studies online discourse, has found overlaps between the 5G and anti-vaccination conspiracy theories. Vox said:
This could be cause for concern, as certain conspiracy theorists might refuse a Covid-19 vaccine when one is eventually produced. That could put more vulnerable people at risk.
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