A Broadband Engineer Was Spat on by a 5G Conspiracy Theorist. Then He Got Coronavirus.

The attacks on network workers are getting more frequent, brazen, and violent.
May 7, 2020, 3:16pm
Pedestrians walk past a fire-damaged telecom tower, reported in local media as being a 5G network mast on the EE network, operated by BT Group Plc, in Birmingham, U.K., on Monday, April 6, 2020.

Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.

It was the second week of April, and Michael Demetroudi, an apprentice network engineer based in Wood Green in north London, was having a bad week.

He had already endured two attacks from conspiracy theorists who believed 5G was connected to the spread of coronavirus. First, a woman walked out in front of his van, swearing and gesturing at him, and claiming he was spreading 5G from the top of the vehicle.

Then, while Demetroudi was in line to pay for a sandwich in a supermarket, a man noticed the logo on the back of his jacket and started shouting abuse, until two nearby police officers intervened.

But things were about to get worse.

While Demetroudi was working outside, he was approached by an angry man who quickly became aggressive, shouting “All you engineers are just trying to import the 5G in every single box.” The man then spat in Demetroudi’s face.

As a result, Demetroudi, who was worried about having come in contact with a vulnerable family member, was forced to self-isolate at home. Then he fell ill with what he suspects is coronavirus.

Demetroudi’s experience is not an isolated incident: his employer, Openreach, the company that maintains much of the U.K.’s broadband network, says that it has recorded 68 incidents related to 5G and/or COVID 19 since the beginning of April.

The company has provided VICE News with three other testimonies from engineers across the U.K. who have been attacked or verbally abused.

  • Tiffany Evans was working on a road in Porthcawl, South Wales when a man asked if she understood what 5G was doing to people’s health before verbally abusing her. He then started videoing her, and footage of the incident has already been posted to YouTube.
  • Naveed Qureshi was working on a street in east London when he was lectured on the effects of 5G by a woman. Two hours she returned with a group that swelled to 15 people swearing at him and calling him a murderer.
  • Dylan Farrell was stopped at a roundabout in Leicester in his Openreach van when he heard a man, parked on his passenger side, shouting aggressively towards him. The man got out of his vehicle and tried to open the passenger side door shouting “5G is killing us all.” The man’s daughter recorded the incident on her phone.

There are just some of the dozens of such incidents the company has recorded in recent weeks and linked to a conspiracy theory that links 5G mobile phone technology to the spread of coronavirus — even though the engineers are not working on 5G technology.

These incidents have happened alongside a spike in arson attacks on more than 75 mobile phone masts since the beginning of April, most of which have been linked to the same conspiracy theory.

There have been dozens more attempted attacks on these sites with those conducting the attacks often posting videos of the incidents on social media within minutes.

READ: These videos show people burning down 5G cell phone towers over coronavirus conspiracy theories

The attacks began in early April, with a number of conspiracy theories being cultivated and shared on social media.

One claimed that 5G was linked to the spread of coronavirus because a next-generation phone network was switched on in Wuhan just before the outbreak was first detected there.

Other theories claim the virus was released on purpose to deflect attention from the rollout of 5G networks, while others claim 5G aids the transmissibility of the virus.

The current wave of attacks conspiracy theories linking the technology to the spread of coronavirus has been traced back to an article published on a regional Dutch website that cited a doctor making the connection.

While there have been some attacks on 5G networks and network engineers in other countries — including New Zealand, the Netherlands, and Ireland — the U.K. has seen the vast majority of incidents.

These incidents have been fuelled by a huge volume of posts on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

While some social media companies say they are being more aggressive in taking down 5G-coronavirus conspiracy theory-related posts, Wired reports that this week alone there were more than 54,000 posts referencing 5G and coronavirus have appeared on Facebook, generating over 2 million interactions.

Cover: Pedestrians walk past a fire-damaged telecom tower, reported in local media as being a 5G network mast on the EE network, operated by BT Group Plc, in Birmingham, U.K., on Monday, April 6, 2020. (Photo: Darren Staples/Bloomberg via Getty Images)