UPDATE: April 6 ― Keri Hilson may have deleted her social media posts about 5G wireless technology being linked to the coronavirus, but that doesn’t mean others aren’t spreading dangerous misinformation.
On Sunday, music producer Teddy Riley claimed that the virus was being spread through cellular towers in an Instagram Live chat with Charlamagne Tha God.
“We’re being bamboozled,” Riley said. “We’re being made to believe so many things that is not the truth. It’s not for me to say, I feel like my brothers and sisters need to know. The corona, everybody know by now what it really is. It’s really about this new world order that they’re trying to put in with these G5 connections.”
Other celebrities, including rapper M.I.A. and actor Woody Harrelson, have also been sharing false information on their platforms. And the 5G conspiracy theory has been spreading rapidly.
Last week, several cell towers were set ablaze in the U.K. in acts that were most likely arson, NBC reported. At least one of the towers wasn’t even used for 5G, but for 2G, 3G and 4G networks serving thousands of people in the Birmingham area. A spokesperson told the outlet that the damage to that tower was “significant.”
NBC also reported on a video of a U.K. woman harassing two engineers laying 5G fiber optic cables. In the video, which is getting attention on Twitter, the woman accuses them of laying wires that kill people.
Just when we thought we were done with damage control from the lie that Black people can’t contract COVID-19, Keri Hilson comes along with more dangerous misinformation about the coronavirus.
The “Pretty Girl Rock” singer shared a series of tweets with screenshots and videos that implied that the creation of 5G cellular service is directly related to the spread of COVID-19.
“People have been trying to warn us about 5G for YEARS. Petitions, organizations, studies ... what we’re going thru is the affects [sic] of radiation,” Hilson tweeted on Sunday night, March 15. “5G launched in CHINA. Nov 1, 2019. People dropped dead. See attached & go to my IG stories for more. TURN OFF 5G by disabling LTE!!!”
On Instagram, Hilson shared a nearly nine-minute video of Dr. Thomas Cowan, a holistic physician based in San Francisco, giving a lecture linking 5G to the virus. In her caption, she also suggested that African countries aren’t dealing with the virus as severely because “Africa is not a 5G region,” even though dozens of cases have been confirmed in Nigeria, South Africa, Ethiopia, Egypt and other countries on the continent. And some experts have told CNN that the African countries could get hit the hardest by the virus.
The singer’s posts went viral, as many people online called her out for spreading misinformation. But an alarming number of people commented on and shared her posts as if Hilson was providing credible information.
Hilson’s assertion is wrong and dangerous, experts told HuffPost. Dr. Stephanie Miles-Richardson, the associate dean of graduate education in public health at Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, said she was “shocked” and “taken aback” when she read Hilson’s claims.
“This is not a conspiracy, it’s not a phone,” Miles-Richardson said about COVID-19. “Coronavirus is an I-Class virus. There are many and this is an emerging one. So we’re learning about it, and it’s not the first time we’ve had one emerge, so I think that folks are trying to make up reasons for this to fall out the sky. But the fact of the matter is the last two coronaviruses that we were concerned about emerged similarly ... SARS and MERS. This is yet another.”
Dr. Georges C. Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, also chimed in to debunk the theory Hilson shared.
“COVID-19 is caused by a virus that came through a natural animal source and has no relation to 5G or any radiation linked to technology,” he told HuffPost via email.
A New York Times article last July reported that concerns that new technology is “likely to be a serious health hazard” stems partly from research in 2000 by physicist Bill P. Curry. In a graph, he purportedly showed that as the frequencies from wireless services increased, so did radiation to the brain. Curry’s theory spread far and wide, but his chart was proven faulty. Experts on the biological effects of electromagnetic radiation explained that his research didn’t take the human skin’s shielding effect as protection into consideration, according to the Times.
So How Did Some People Link 5G To The Coronavirus?
Miles-Richardson said a few things are at play here. One major challenge she’s noted since the initial outbreak is that the public health community, especially its leaders, haven’t made information as accessible and palatable as it needs to be for the public. She said the emphasis on testing and deaths has led to paranoia and people wanting to be able to gain control.
The other issue is how fast wrong information can spread on social media. Miles-Richardson said this is especially harmful for communities who seek social media for information.
“All social media is certainly not bad, but social media is as good as its source, and so there are a lot of things that are floating around in social media that people are picking up,” she told HuffPost. “And a lot of it is in jest, which is frustrating because it’s not a funny situation, but a lot of it is cute little anecdotes about if you’re Black and you had this experience then you’re immune and people are starting to take that to heart.”
Hilson has 4.2 million Twitter followers and 2.3 million Instagram followers, so her spreading of misinformation has huge implications. The 37-year-old doubled down on raising doubts about the cause of the coronavirus, saying on a March 16 Instagram post, “Could this be causing a contagious virus, or could it not be a virus at all, and companies/countries are sworn to pass it off as something much less scary?”
Why Hilson’s Comments Are Dangerous
Her comments are dangerous given how much scientists and doctors still don’t know about COVID-19. It’s especially irresponsible considering that Black people likely face a greater risk of dying from the virus and Hilson’s fanbase is predominantly Black.
Miles-Richardson said she understands how mistrust in larger institutions can lead Black communities to seek information from those who look like them at a time when information about the virus hasn’t been as widespread as it should be.
“Certainly someone who is a star or somebody who has that kind of a platform, folks want to latch onto somebody they can trust and they feel like they can trust this person and it’s just not founded,” she said. “It’s not founded on anything that makes sense, but folks don’t have anything else to latch onto.”
To combat misinformation, Miles-Richardson said credible information about the pandemic needs to disseminated more widely in places and from sources that Black people trust.
“I think that we have to do that, places like Morehouse School of Medicine, and then get that to our churches, our church leaders and get that to our radio stations and to the types of outlets that people of color listen to,” she said. “There are many churches who moved to online formats on Sunday, but there were many churches who had folks in the building and it’s not the time for that. It’s the time for social distancing, but if they don’t get that information in a way they can receive it, then it’s not heeded.”
Note: HuffPost is owned by Verizon, a wireless company that provides 5G service.