Last week, between 200 and 300 people gathered in Melbourne to protest what they believed were the real causes of the coronavirus: Bill Gates and 5G. These theories have taken hold all over the world - to the degree that people in Europe have attempted to burn down 5G towers.
Launceston is not immune to these theories. Both strains of the conspiracy - that tech billionaire Bill Gates and/or new technology network 5G are responsible for causing COVID-19 - have been aired on Launceston social media pages and Facebook groups in recent weeks.
The Bill Gates theory is, roughly, as follows: Bill Gates paid the Chinese government to create and then distribute the coronavirus to achieve an evil plan of wiping out 10 to 15 per cent of the population through vaccines.
The evidence most commonly cited is that Gates has mentioned multiple times in interviews that widespread vaccination in the developing world will bring down the population. In the YouTube videos and Facebook pages that promote the "evil plan" theory, this is cited as a slip of tongue - Gates accidentally revealing the part of his plan he wasn't meant to say out loud. But in fact, he has explained in detail why he quotes these figures.
The reason vaccines will, seemingly paradoxically, lower birth rates, is because in poverty-stricken areas, families have large amounts of children because they expect some of them to die. And one of the leading causes of child deaths in parts of the developing world is diseases that don't exist in places like Australia, because we have vaccines. This year, for example, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Africa, a measles epidemic took the lives of 6000 people. Closer to home, measles killed 60 children under the age of four in Samoa last year.
Gates's belief is that by eliminating preventable diseases with vaccines, more children will live to adulthood and parents will choose to have less children because they will be more confident that their existing children will survive. He does not mean that vaccines will lower the population because he plans to use them to kill people.
The conspiracy influencers who are anti-Bill Gates also provide other evidence, which is, quite simply, completely made up. They claim that he was kicked out of India for paralyzing 496,000 children, which doesn't even have a grain of truth to it - that just never happened. They also say that he is planning to implement a tracking device via COVID-19 vaccination. This is a wild take on a pilot project the Gates Foundation undertook, which floated the idea of using tiny, invisible, and harmless infrared tattoos, to indicate a child has already been vaccinated, in countries that don't have strong record-keeping abilities.
The main reason Bill Gates, of all people, has become the target of an online hate campaign is because there is a huge cross-over between COVID conspiracy theorists and anti-vaccination influencers. As one of the leading figures in the global effort to save lives in the developing world through widespread vaccines, he was already a target.
There are many pages and YouTube channels that receive advertising money every time somebody clicks on them - spreading their theories among the well-meaning population. Those dealing in anti-vaccination theories have quickly pivoted to fit their narratives to the circumstances of the pandemic.
The idea that 5G networks - a high-frequency data transmission network - cause the coronavirus also represents a pivot on behalf of people who were already spreading theories about 5G. They then fit their narratives to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The source of the health fears about 5G can mostly be traced to a single graph, by an American physicist Bill P Curry. Curry surmised that radiowaves could be a "serious health hazard" and could possibly cause brain cancer, based on a study he undertook of its effects.
Curry was genuine in believing the results of his study. But, as subsequent scientists have pointed out, he misunderstood the fact that radiowaves become safer at higher frequencies, not more dangerous. He also performed his tests on raw tissue, which didn't account for the ability of human skin to protect us from radiowaves - which it does, including radiowaves like sunlight and the 4G network.
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5G waves are not able to penetrate into human cells. But by the time the scientific community was able to dispute Curry's faulty work, his scary graph had already been widely distributed and is still making the rounds of the internet today.
Then, by coincidence, China began rolling out 5G at about the same time the coronavirus pandemic hit Wuhan. Some conspiracy sites say that Wuhan was the first city in the world to receive 5G, but this is not true - Launceston even had 5G before November last year.
The strongest piece of evidence that 5G doesn't cause the coronavirus is that if it was transmitted via the 5G network, rather than through droplets, most of Tasmania would have it. Launceston and Hobart are already covered by the 5G network. But cases have thoroughly flattened in both of those places - and the North-West, where Tasmania's most significant outbreak occurred, does not have 5G.