Conspiracy theories around 5G mobile technology, fuelled by the coronavirus pandemic, are winding their way into local communities in Scotland and stoking fear. In this in-depth report, we examine the theories and how they spread, expose those who irresponsibly share misinformation — and give you the verified facts.
At around 10.30pm on a Saturday night in April, a fire started at the base of a phone mast in north-east Dundee.
A concerned resident in Whitfield called the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, who sent officers to the scene. They remained on site into the night as they waited for electrical engineers to arrive, having contained the blaze to the point it burnt itself out.
Police were made aware of the incident, but did not investigate. It is understood the fire was deemed an accident.
Despite this, a small online community of conspiracy theorists celebrated. Accident or not, a blow had been struck against what they saw as an encroaching threat on their way of life – the menace of fifth-generation mobile technology, or 5G.
In a group on Facebook entitled “Dundee STOP 5G & SMART METERS”, one man called the fire “great news”. Another suggested that a wayward spark “might set fire to another one”, his comment littered with knowing emojis.
“Let’s hope (others) get the same treatment,” noted another local woman who shared the post.
The fire damaged equipment at the base of the mast, disrupting the signal for locals well into May. It may have also caused problems for local emergency services, who depend on Vodafone’s network infrastructure.
As the online community celebrated what they saw as the fall of a pawn in their war against tech there was just one problem: the mast affected didn’t even carry 5G.
A Vodafone spokeswoman said: “The fire brigade continues to investigate the incident. We are currently working to restore services as soon as possible. It was not a 5G mast.”
The Dundee 5G group on Facebook is one of a number of local communities of sceptics convinced that the government and media are lying to them about new technology.
Conspiracy theories around 5G technology have been around for as long as the tech itself. But the latest suggestion that it is somehow responsible for creating, or spreading, coronavirus is having costly and dangerous effects on UK mobile networks and their staff.
5G conspiracies ‘complete rubbish’
Sceptics have made tenuous links between the arrival of Covid-19 and the introduction of 5G, and even say radio waves are transmitting or activating viral pathogens – described by Simon Clarke, associate professor in cellular microbiology at the University of Reading, as “complete rubbish”.
Rubbish or not, the theories are taking hold. Since lockdown began in March approximately 90 UK masts have been set on fire, while engineers working on masts have been confronted, abused, spat on or even stabbed by those who wrongly believe they are endangering lives.
The number of people using Google to research alleged links between 5G and coronavirus has spiked in recent weeks according to Google Trends data, outstripping earlier concerns shared over 5G tech.
As a result of poor social media gatekeeping, and a global pandemic keeping everyone indoors and on their phones, false claims about 5G spread like wildfire.
Spurred on by disturbing graphics, slickly edited videos and pseudo-scientific explanations, a minority of locals are increasingly convinced scientists, experts and fact-checkers are lying to them – and disseminate these theories among friends.
Deb Brown, a moderator on the Dundee STOP 5G & SMART METERS group, came to the conclusion 5G would be the cause of a “mass genocide” after poring over pages and pages of unverified and false information on social media. She believed billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates – a frequent scapegoat of conspiracy theorists – was behind the plot.
Bill Gates, these people, are all bought and paid for, part and parcel of a conspiracy. But it’s not a conspiracy, it’s an agenda.”
“I’m not a gullible person,” says the 56-year-old, from the West End of the city. “But when something sits right your instinct knows. You can’t just push this aside as nonsense.
“The number of top senior staff and doctors and nurses saying what is being promoted in mainstream media is wrong…it’s worldwide. It’s so obviously propaganda.
“Bill Gates, these people, are all bought and paid for, part and parcel of a conspiracy. But it’s not a conspiracy, it’s an agenda.”
Asked if she believes 5G is responsible for the virus, she responded: “I believe what I have read. This Covid, I’m not saying I don’t believe there’s a nasty virus but I do believe that they’re manipulating the figures.”
A former campaigner for Scottish independence, Brown says she no longer consumes mainstream media because “any organisation can lie through its teeth”.
She also rejects the idea that anti-5G groups are encouraging people to set fire to phone masts. However, the fact remains that people in these groups call for towers to be taken down, using vigilante methods if necessary.
“I don’t get involved in that, because I don’t want to encourage actions of violence,” she says.
“I’m a pacifist. I’m out to try and help and educate people. That (setting fire to a mast) is an act of violence as far as I’m concerned. I don’t think the towers should be there but I would never encourage somebody to deliberately set fire to something.”
Paul Dixon, another moderator on the Dundee Facebook page, attempted to interrupt a Dundee City Council meeting in January this year as councillors agreed to proceed with a £1.1 million 5G testbed scheme at the city’s waterfront.
The 63-year-old angrily sought to make a “point of information” but was not allowed to speak as he had not submitted a formal request to the council to do so.
He said following the January meeting: “5G has never been used on the general public for communication purposes, but only as weapons technology used by the military.
“Dundee is being used as a test bed against the precautionary principle meant to protect human populations.”
Dixon did not respond to further requests for comment for this article.
Conspiratorial sentiments expressed online are no longer the preserve of tin-foil hat brigades. They are now bleeding out into everyday life.
On May 16, people ventured into public spaces across the UK to protest lockdown measures. The events were organised by online guerilla mob UK Freedom Movement (UKFM), a haven of conspiracy theories relating to 5G, coronavirus and vaccinations.
UKFM was initially confused with two other groups, another called UK Freedom Movement and the Britain Freedom Movement, pro-Brexit groups set up by right-wing firebrands Richard Inman and Jayda Fransen, respectively. Both have denied any involvement in the gatherings.
Despite the group’s page eventually being removed by Facebook, the seed of dissent had been sown and around 25 people attended a gathering at Dundee’s Balgay Park on May 16.
Much like the digital gatherings, the leafy setting was abound with conspiracy theories, and those present displayed a strong mistrust in mainstream media sources and did not adhere to social distancing guidelines.
One man, who refused to give his name, spoke of the heavily debunked claim that Covid-19 was developed at a lab in Wuhan and claimed: “I know it’s true.”
Asked if he believed 5G was to blame for the virus, he added: “When you look at the evidence it’s a hell of a possibility.”
Brandishing a megaphone, speaker Daniel Clark claimed to a crowd of around 25 people that those who had Covid-19 had a higher life expectancy than those who did not – an erroneous conflagration of the high death rate among elderly people.
Clark, an employee of telecoms giant BT at Dundee’s Telephone House, proliferated anti-establishment theories to an enraptured crowd and suggested that the lockdown was a cover for a world-ending agenda, with philanthropists such as Bill Gates at its centre, and advocated breaching lockdown.
“People are being silenced in the media!” he told gathered news reporters and camera operators.
Clark, an Inverness native who spent time growing up in the United States, took offence to being asked if he felt ignoring lockdown was dangerous.
Singling out our reporter to the crowd, he said: “We have someone from the media, who has no interest in the truth, no interest in debating what I’ve said.
“Why does he care about me? Because he wants to degrade the truth coming out of my mouth by degrading my character, by degrading my integrity.
“That is his goal, that is his job, and he is an enemy of the people.”
Gates, together with his wife Melinda, has pledged $250 million to fighting Covid-19 — which has somehow led sceptics to the conclusion he is seeking to profit from the pandemic.
In response to a request for comment on this article Mark Suzman, CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said: “We’re concerned about the conspiracy theories being spread online and the damage they could cause to public health.
“At a time like this, when the world is facing an unprecedented health and economic crisis, it’s distressing that there are people spreading misinformation when we should all be looking for ways to collaborate and save lives.
“Right now, one of the best things we can do to stop the spread of Covid-19 is spread the facts.”
5G conspiracies: the key players
Dundee’s Stop 5G group is one of several Facebook pages which purports to support local efforts to oppose the technology but it, and others across Scotland, are all co-ordinated by a 40-year-old hairdresser from Glasgow.
Laura Gilmartin, who lives in Knightswood, makes multiple posts across the groups every day, claiming 5G is “a disease of oxygen starvation” that “makes the body unable to carry CO2 (carbon dioxide)”.
The Glaswegian is convinced that Covid-19 is a hoax dreamt up to allow 5G installation to go ahead uninhibited and has given implicit support to those who vandalise 5G signals.
Against a news item claiming a former gangster is offering money to those who set fire to 5G masts, she wrote: “It speaks volumes when gangsters and criminals have to step in and protect the people against the 5G crime.”
Despite praising those who set fire to phone masts she denies she is inciting others to damage them.
“I believe that (fireraising) would be criminal damage,” she said, when contacted for comment.
“It could also be classed as self-defence.
“Legally you could say under criminal assault they are violating their own guidelines. I wouldn’t encourage anybody to do anything — I’m a free thinker and so is everyone else.”
Gilmartin says she became interested in 5G after developing electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS).
EHS allegedly causes sufferers to develop symptoms when exposed to sources of electromagnetic waves such as phone masts — as exemplified in the Netflix drama Better Call Saul by Chuck, the brother of main character Jimmy McGill.
She experiences “electric shocks to the brain” due to the condition trigeminal neuralgia, which causes sudden shooting pains in the face. It is a known side-effect of dental surgery, and Gilmartin had a wisdom tooth removed prior to her diagnosis.
However, she also claims her neighbour’s smart meter makes her feel ill and she had to give up her work as a hairdresser due to being “surrounded by electrical appliances”.
To date, there has been no scientific basis established for EHS. The World Health Organisation conducted double-blind tests in 2005 and concluded that those said they were sensitive to electromagnetic fields were not able to detect them any better than those who said they were not.
However the WHO did not dispute that there could be psychological causes and “whatever its cause, EHS can be a disabling problem for the affected individual.”
Gilmartin’s theories include what she calls a “5G kill grid” in Glasgow city centre, an unverified map of phone masts, which has been seized upon as evidence of a conspiracy.
“See when they let us all out they’re gonna turn this 5G on and it’s gonna make people ill and they’re gonna say it’s Covid-19 again,” one man told Unchained Media Scotland, a citizen journalism collective, at Glasgow Green’s anti-lockdown protest in May.
“That’s what’s happening. Mark Steele will tell you exactly what it is. It’s a f*****ng war weapon, man. What the f**k are they doing putting it in our street lights?”
Mark Steele is one of the UK’s leading 5G conspiracy activists. Together with his brother Graham, he runs Save US Now, a political party registered with the Electoral Commission that campaigns against 5G. The pair also design motorcycle helmets in a family-run company, Reevu, in Gateshead.
A self-professed “weapons expert” who associates with Gilmartin, Steele has harassed staff and elected members of Gateshead Council for several years, branding them branded “baby killers” and murderers.
He regularly posts videos in his trademark sunglasses on Facebook, Russian social network VKontakte, messaging app Telegram and Minds, a “free-speech” social media platform. In the past, the ex-engineer has also raised close to £30,000 on crowdfunding platforms which he says has been used to pay legal fees.
“The police…they’re not really the police, are there? They’re a corporation, a corporate body owned by the Chinese, owned through the corporate banking system. We know that.”
“The existential threat of 5G, is a killer… most of the people out there know it’s a weapons system,” he says in a video posted on April 30.
“The police…they’re not really the police, are there? They’re a corporation, a corporate body owned by the Chinese, owned through the corporate banking system. We know that.
“Northumbria Police work for Gateshead Council (who are fitting a) weapons system in our streets, harming and disabling our children.”
The Gateshead man has also written comments which appear to support the notion of setting phone masts alright against videos of fireraising. “THE LIGHT IS SHINING WAKING THE PEOPLE UP TO THIS CRIMINAL ENTERPRISE,” he wrote against one video, now removed, called “UK Citizens Burn Down 5G Hell Towers”.
“Hopefully a few more 5G candles tonight,” noted one man in the comments section underneath.
If you ask Mark Steele if he is inciting people to set masts alight, he will tell you it is the mainstream media’s fault. Anyone who does not agree with his line of thinking has “a serious mental health disability”.
He said: “I blame the mainstream media, terrifying people into these terrible actions. I totally refute that (the idea he is encouraging people to burn masts). I’ve always said to people to adhere to the rule of law. You don’t want to be like the criminals putting the machines in.”
In an extensive interview for this article, he claimed to have insider knowledge of how new mobile technology was in fact a “weapons system” but declined to go into specifics, citing the Official Secrets Act.
He was also reluctant to discuss his conviction for accidentally shooting a teenager in 1993. Nicola Lumsden was 18 when a stray bullet from Steele’s pistol hit her in the head and lodged in her skull, leaving her with severe disabilities.
He had produced the gun in the car park of the pub where he worked as a bouncer in an “act of bravado”. His lawyer said he had been “paranoid about his safety” at the time, but Steele was jailed for eight years. His conviction will never be spent.
When asked, Steele did not deny that this was true, only claiming that “the information in the mainstream media” was false.
In 2018, Gateshead Council took the extraordinary step of publicly denying it was causing miscarriages, killing birds and insects and carrying out “secret government trials” in a bid to pour water on Steele’s campaign. When that failed, they took him to court. Steele is currently subject to an injunction banning him from threatening council staff.
However, he was not banned from campaigning full-stop. Chronicle Live reported that Recorder Nolan QC said Steele had put a “tremendous amount of research” into his work, adding that 5G was “an area of public concern…and the public have a right to know — this is a free country”.
“The judge in my case said the 5G risk must be debated,” Steele says. “This is a democracy. Because I showed them the papers that said it was a genocide.”
‘Burn, baby, burn’
Steele often collaborates with Lee Garrett, who hosts an anti-5G show on YouTube which has featured both he and Gilmartin as guests. The pair were most recently seen together in a video uploaded on May 14 showing them harassing mobile phone engineers in a residential area of Gateshead.
Garrett, 28, is a community activist who was once involved in the UK’s “yellow vest” movement and ran for election in December, for which he raised £1,077 online and won 76 votes.
Once a member of Save Us Now, he says he now campaigns independently against 5G and LED street lighting because of the claimed effects electromagnetic radiation had on his children, which he acted on by smashing a light outside his house. He was not named in news reports at the time, but openly admits he was responsible.
“We’ve never had a nosebleed since and I’ve EMF-painted my house,” he says.
However, the father-of-two denies being a conspiracy theorist. Rather, he is “a concerned dad speaking up for his children’s future”.
“The science doesn’t add up. I haven’t seen anything to prove otherwise.
“Talking about 5G has ruined my life, totally ruined my life. But I’ve got to stand by the truth. I only care about my kids and the best future they can possibly have.”
Garrett’s channels have served as a link between 5G conspiracies and far-right ideals. He has expressed support for members of the extremist group Britain First, including its founder Paul Golding, who was convicted of terrorism offences on May 20 after refusing to give his phone passcode to anti-terror police following a political trip to Russia.
Fans of Garrett’s Telegram channel — a messaging service — regularly share information about alleged antifa (anti-facist) activists as well as anti-Semitic memes. One such image claims the “coronavirus hoax and lockdown is a major step forward for the Satanic Jewish agenda”.
He has also used his Facebook page, Lee Garrett Save Us Now, to celebrate vandalism against phone masts.
One such clip, uploaded in April, depicted a slideshow of images showing masts ablaze, put to the music of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus, and 70s classic Disco Inferno, by the Trammps.
“Hallelujah”: Watch Garrett’s video
Another, showing a blazing mast being extinguished, was captioned: “New 5G mast set on fire…the public have tried everything to do this the correct way and have been left with no choice.”
Garrett insists he does not support the far right, and does not incite people to commit arson. However, he doesn’t believe that the acts of fire-raisers are wrong.
“I speak to far-right groups, I speak to the socialists, Extinction Rebellion. I’m not political — I’m fully anti-establishment. I believe everyone can make their own minds up.
“There’s been masts getting burned all over the world. I can’t be held responsible for that. I’m just sharing other people’s videos.
“If there was a mast outside your house and you’re telling the establishment, the council, and you’re worried your children are getting cancer, do you still send letters or act and take that thing down? People won’t just sit back and allow that to happen.
“I don’t incite this, for anybody. However, if you’re stuck and the only way is to take out that mast I am fully supportive of anyone doing that.”
In mid-May, Garrett was arrested and charged with malicious communications offences that are understood not to relate to his 5G campaigning.
A Northumbria Police spokesman said: “We can confirm that a 28-year-old man was arrested on Monday (May 18) evening after a report of malicious communication. The man who was arrested has since been charged with the offence of sending a communication causing anxiety and distress.
“Lee Garrett, 28, of Brandywell, Leam Lane, is due to appear before South Tyneside Magistrates’ Court on June 16.”
Social media giants have been criticised by the government for failing to take what they see as decisive action over the spread of misinformation.
Like a game of conspiracy theory whack-a-mole, pages and accounts are often remade as soon they are taken down.
A Facebook company spokesman said: “We are continuously working to stop harmful misinformation spreading on our platforms.
“The WHO are providing clear guidance on Covid-19 misinformation that could lead to real-world harm which we’re removing, and we are pointing people to the latest official NHS guidance directly from our platforms so people have accurate information.”
After being contacted for the purposes of this article, VKontakte removed Steele’s profile along with others such as those belonging to Lee Garrett. It says it has deleted over 1.6 million “cookie cutter” spam posts in coronavirus groups.
A representative added: “Our specialists are constantly monitoring dangerous content and blocking users and bot networks that send out mass messages and try to mislead people.”
Telegram did not respond to a request for comment.
Entering the mainstream
Those like Gilmartin, Steele and Garrett are helped no small amount by celebrities who give legitimacy to what the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has deemed “crackpot” theories.
We have received several reports of criminal damage to phone masts and abuse of telecoms engineers apparently inspired by crackpot conspiracy theories circulating online. Those responsible for criminal acts will face the full force of the law.
The facts ⬇️https://t.co/QWYcc4bOEg
— DCMS (@DCMS) April 5, 2020
TV host Amanda Holden shared a link to an anti-5G petition with her near-two million Twitter followers, while boxer Amir Khan claimed in a post on Instagram that Covid-19 was a “man-made thing…put there for a reason – while they test 5G”.
This Morning host Eamonn Holmes was made to apologise after suggesting that mainstream media was slapping down the 5G theory “when they don’t know it’s not true”. Media regulator Ofcom has since issued the broadcaster with guidance after concluding his remarks “risked undermining viewers’ trust in advice from public authorities and scientific evidence”.
Support for these theories from well-known figures could explain why previously left-field opinions are now commonplace.
A study by researchers at the University of Oxford suggests that mistrust and fringe beliefs are now “mainstream”, and may be hard to displace once set in the minds of sceptics.
Clinical psychologists at the university surveyed 2,501 people in England from all walks of life and found there was “appreciable endorsement” of conspiracy beliefs about Covid-19.
Almost half of those surveyed agreed coronavirus was developed by China “to destroy the west” and a fifth of those surveyed agreed “coronavirus is caused by 5G and is a form of radiation poisoning transmitted through radio waves”.
The paper’s authors concluded: “The results are illuminating but dispiriting: a substantial minority of the population endorses unequivocally false ideas about the pandemic.
“A public health information crisis may be observable. Misinformation and misguided – often malign – views look to be highly prevalent. Fringe beliefs may now be mainstream.”
What the science says about 5G
Mobile UK, a lobbying body representing the country’s four major mobile networks, says the theories around 5G are “baseless”.
It added: “Research into the safety of radio signals including 5G, which has been conducted for more than 50 years, has led to the establishment of human exposure standards including safety factors that protect against all established health risks.”
Like all other wireless technologies, from FM radio to home WiFi, 5G relies on radio signals for broadcast. However, it is undeniable that it is using higher frequencies than previously employed for mobile communications. While that may sound alarming, the resounding agreement among technology experts, scientists and health bodies is that it is safe.
5G differs from previous generations of mobile technology in that its applications go beyond simply giving mobile phones faster internet or more ways to connect in the way that 4G, 3G and 2G did at the time.
It will support many more devices in a single area than 4G and offer speeds as fast as 20 gigabits per second with minimum “latency”, the delay between data being requested and transmitted.
These pave the way for “the Internet of Things” — always-on networks of devices that can “talk” to each other and share data.
These benefits come at a cost, which is the likelihood of a greater number of antennae being installed in more locations, such as on top of bus stops or lampposts. Because 5G operates at a higher frequency than existing mobile networks, its waves cannot pass as easily through walls and windows. This, along with 5G’s expanded role in society compared to 4G, may be where some of the conspiracies are taking root.
But science tells us 5G waves sit in the same category of radiation as existing phone, TV, radio and WiFi signals. They are all types of “non-ionising radiation”, emanating at a frequency too weak to damage or modify living tissue. The strongest kind of non-ionising radiation is visible light — and that is yet to kill us.
Wade Allison, emeritus professor of physics at Oxford University and a leading expert on electromagnetic fields, is among those bewildered by the theories being spread.
“I’m looking at sunshine right now. I can see it, and I’m feeling heat, which I’m getting from the infrared radiation coming from the sun,” he says.
“The radiation coming from 5G signals is no different. It’s harmless, and we have lived with it for millions of years. The theories make a good story, and the word ‘radiation’ seems to excite people, but goodness knows why, because lots of things radiate.”
A prominent advocate for nuclear power — one of the most dangerous sources of ionising radiation if not properly controlled — Professor Allison visited Japan in the wake of the Fukushima disaster in March 2011 to educate fellow experts on radiation safety.
He believes the issue of 5G lies within a failure to educate people properly about the meaning of radiation, and to help them understand that it isn’t a malignant force.
If people took the time to understand how electromagnetic waves worked, he argues, they would see how science supports the notion that these new phone signals are safe.
The microwave oven in people’s kitchens will pose a much greater threat than anything coming from a phone mast, because of the power behind the waves.
A “macrocell” attachment on a phone mast, which provides the most powerful and largest range of coverage in a particular area, typically has an output of less than 100 watts — more than eight times lower than a typical household microwave.
Professor Allison adds: “The electromagnetic spectrum has been known about for well over 100 years. Radiation isn’t made by people with germs or in secret government research laboratories. It’s all around us. It’s not made by anybody.”
Cancer research organisations, including Cancer Research UK, have dismissed the idea that 5G will lead to medical complications and in measurements taken in April, Ofcom said the highest level of radio wave emissions from 5G masts it tested was at 0.039% of the maximum exposure levels set out in international guidelines.
But despite the reassurances from various experts and bodies conspiracy theories continue to crop up online faster than fact checkers can stamp them out — and by the time they have been flagged as false information, it’s already too late.
In some cases, the fact that information has been flagged as fake actually encourages people to believe it more, as a pushback against the “establishment”.
Dundee group moderator Deb Brown: “I think the deep state and the establishment want to keep us quiet.
“When you start to read or watch videos from people that are at the high end of their jobs — experts and doctors — that’s the folk I would believe before I believe any politician.
“I’ve been blocked and banned a lot from Facebook because of what I post. In the years I’ve been looking into this and through speaking with others you realise that the reality is not what the government tells you.
“The fact they’re taking things off of YouTube and that proves they’ve got something to hide.”
Where conspiracies take root
Conspiracy theories are hardly a new phenomenon. People have speculated for years that Lee Harvey Oswald had help when he shot JFK, that Paul McCartney died in 1966 and has been replaced by a clone, and that 9/11 was staged because “jet fuel can’t melt steel beams”.
However, the means by which they start and spread have changed in the modern era, with largely ungated and unmoderated online communities on Facebook, WhatsApp, Telegram, Signal and other messaging platforms responsible for disseminating misinformation.
Oxford’s Professor Allison: “It’s just because 5G is new (that people are scared). There could also be politics to it, because it is coming, some of it at least, is being made by people in China. But their science is the same as everyone else’s science.”
Karen Douglas, a professor of social psychology at the University of Kent and a leading voice in the field of conspiracy theories, believes people cling to them because they bestow a sense of belonging and security.
When a new, invisible enemy in the form of a virus appears and there’s no end in sight to the pandemic, people can go looking for answers where there are none to be found.
In the past, she has even suggested that people adopt conspiracy theories in the way others may have adopted religious beliefs in the past, as a means by which to make sense of, and have a feeling of power over, the world around them.
She said: “It is difficult to trace the exact origins of these conspiracy theories but there have been conspiracy theories about 5G technology for some time now, and some of them are related to health – (such as) that it is a hazard to public health and this is being covered up.
“Conspiracy theories are very complex and people who believe in one conspiracy theory tend to also believe in others, so it does not surprise me that people are connecting the dots here.
“The phenomenon is not new. It is true though that social media has significantly changed how we consume and share information.
“The situation at present is very frightening and uncertain. In times of crisis, people often turn to conspiracy theories to try to make sense of things.”
Professor Douglas has studied scepticism for over a decade, examining the motivations behind theories around the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, the anti-vaccination movement, climate change and the September 11 terror attacks.
She identified three psychological reasons as to why people believe conspiracies: the need for knowledge and certainty; for safety and security; and to feel good about themselves and be validated.
As for how to fight the fire of conspiracy in the age of social media, Professor Douglas does not have a definitive answer. Studies have found that presenting people with accurate information prior to being exposed to a conspiracy theory reduces their risk of believing in it, and that counteracting and even ridiculing conspiracy claims can be effective.
However, the simple fact that most conspiracy theories reject establishment norms is an obstacle in the way of dispelling fake ideas.
Professor Douglas concludes: “People who believe in conspiracy theories are generally very mistrustful of authorities and this is one of the key predictors of a broad range of conspiracy beliefs.
“There is one very common narrative amongst conspiracy believers that people in power are not telling the truth and that they cannot be trusted.
“Once people believe in conspiracy theories it is difficult to make those beliefs go away.”
Even now, several months into the Covid-19 pandemic, the wildfire of misinformation continues to rage on. Social media giants are extinguishing theories one at a time, but it seems each time they put one out, Mark Steele and his associates start another two in their place.
In Dundee, a new group of activists has formed in the wake of the UK Freedom Movement gatherings, and locals continue to post in the STOP 5G & SMART METERS group.
In mid-May, locals shared their outrage at a phone mast allegedly erected in Balgay Park disguised as a tree — a common practice among mobile operators to reduce visual clutter.
As they debated what to do about this new development one commenter, smiling with a dog in her profile picture, wrote: “Burn the f****r down.”