Ugly, Not Deadly

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Photo: Vangelis Aragiannis/Alamy

We do not like looking at them. They disrupt many otherwise pristine views of nature, in the most surprising places. And so the thought of them being dangerous to birds would be an easy stretch of the imagination. Thanks to Audubon for the clarification, that their danger to birds is just an act of imagination:

No, 5G Radio Waves Do Not Kill Birds

Here’s the truth behind a Facebook falsehood spreading across the internet.

On the internet, there is often a fine line between a healthy skepticism of new technologies and blatant misinformation. The recent claim that the radio waves from 5G cellular communication towers are causing mass bird die-offs is a perfect example of just how thin that line can be—and how quickly falsehoods can spread across Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and even in the comments of Audubon magazine’s stories.

The origin of this claim is as head-spinning as it is instructive, so let’s untangle the knot: Does 5G really kill birds, and if not, why are so many people shouting about it online?

The first part of this saga is fairly straightforward: No, 5G—the fifth generation of our mobile cellular network—does not kill birds. “Radio wave emissions above 10 MHz from radio transmission antennas (including cell telephone towers) are not known to harm birds,” says Joe Kirschvink, a biophysicist at the California Institute of Technology who specializes in magnetics, in an email.

Krischvink isn’t just an expert on such matters—he was also involved in a related study that has proven prescient. In 2014, Kirschvink, at the same time as another group of biologists in Germany, found that low-level magnetic radiation, such as AM radio waves, could interfere with migratory birds’ ability to orient themselves using the Earth’s magnetic field. Although the researchers found that the birds were still able to compensate, they proposed restricting the use of the AM frequency band.

Aware of how this research and the resulting proposal might be interpreted by the general public, Kirschvink issued a strong disclaimer in his study: “Modern-day charlatans will undoubtedly seize on this study as an argument for banning the use of mobile phones, despite the different frequency bands involved,” he wrote.

Despite Kirschvink’s clear warning, the claims that cellular radio waves kill birds spread nonetheless. The blame for that, however, doesn’t fall on Kirschvink and his peers, but rather one “UFO researcher” posting on Facebook.

The “5G kills birds” phenomenon was started by John Kuhles, who according to the fact-checking site Snopes, “runs several anti-5G conspiracy websites and social media pages.” In a Facebook post last year, Kuhles claimed that a recent mass die-off of European Starlings in the Netherlands was caused by a 5G antenna test. Despite the fact that the local municipality never named a cause for the die-off, and the fact that the test Kuhles cites happened months before the die-off occurred, other Facebook pages and health blogs nonetheless picked up the post.

Things got weirder and even more obfuscated when Indian sci-fi blockbuster 2.0, currently the highest-budgeted Tamil-language film ever made, hit cinemas just days later. Apart from being a parable about how technology is ruining our lives, 2.0 specifically depicts electromagnetic radiation from cell towers wiping out bird populations, validating Kuhles’ crackpot theory. “Following the release of ‘2.0’, which revolves around a plot depicting harmful effects of EMF radiation on birds, Indian news organisations, mostly Tamil media, published stories on the movie by adding the ‘birds died in The Netherlands due to 5G’ bit,” reported Indian fact-checking outlet Alt News…

Read the whole article here.

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