FactCheck Social Media

NZ “burning tower” image seems to be from US, via Hungary

2020-04-15 17:40:43

The Statement

A Facebook post claims to show a phone tower in New Zealand being burned down.

The post from March 31 features a photo of a burning telecommunications tower with the caption “NZ is not wasting anytime, they are burning the towers down”. Two other photos in the post are of a distant phone tower and a distant, lit-up horizon.

The post has garnered more than 600 reactions and 800 comments, and has been shared more than 900 times.

A Facebook post claims to show evidence of phone towers being burned down in New Zealand.

The Analysis

As of April 15, New Zealand remains at Alert Level 4 alert due to COVID-19, with most of the population in lockdown except for essential travel and services.

Amidst the global outbreak of the potentially deadly viral infection, conspiracy theorists have pushed claims of a link between New Zealand’s lockdown and the rollout of 5G technology around the country while elsewhere some have sought to claim 5G is causing the COVID-19 viral outbreak.

New Zealand’s Ministry of Health and the nation’s Chief Science Advisor have published information about 5G and health, with the Chief Science Advisor stating that according to current research findings it is extremely unlikely that there will be adverse health affects.

On Wednesday, April 8, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told reporters any claimed link between 5G and COVID-19 is “just not true”.

Despite this, anti-5G sentiment is leading to threats of vandalism of the telecommunications network and 5G towers.

New Zealand’s Telecommunications Forum (TCF) said in a statement on April 9 that threats to 5G towers have been made and some towers have been damaged, including attempts of arson. A 4G tower was also confirmed to have been damaged. A spokesperson for New Zealand telco Spark told the New Zealand Herald that since the end of March there has been “vandalism, including arson attempts at a few of our cell towers”.

The burning of a cellphone tower in the Auckland suburb of Mangere on April 5 is currently under investigation. A video posted on Facebook, which police believe is linked to the fire, features a tower being doused in flammable liquid and set alight. The words “f**k you 5G, f**k you Government, f**k you New World Order” are spoken by a person in the video.

A 4G tower under construction on private land in Waiharara was irreparably damaged by arson late March, according to a media report. It was built by the Rural Connectivity Group to bring 4G connectivity to rural “blackspot” areas with poor or no internet connection, and was yet to be activated.

AAP Factcheck traced the image of the burning tower in the original Facebook post and found it is a still from a video posted to Youtube by a Hungarian user on March 10, 2019 and since viewed more than 18,000 times.

The image in question can be seen 33 seconds into the 59 second video, which shows a series of burning towers and a collapsing radio mast. A Google Translate translation of the Hungarian caption on the video reads: “People took their destiny into their own hands”.

At the 37 second mark what appears to be a US flag – a flag with red and white horizontal stripes and a dark square in the upper corner – is visible alongside the burning phone tower. The flag is also partially visible in the still image in the Facebook post.

The video is watermarked @chalkbodyoutline, which is a Youtube account based in the United States.

Mobile phone tower.
 A mobile phone mast surrounded by clouds. 

The Verdict

Based on the evidence, AAP Factcheck found the post misrepresents an image as being of a New Zealand phone tower. The photo is taken from a video posted on a Hungarian YouTube channel more than 12 months earlier. That video is, in turn, from a US account and features what appears to be a US flag. While there have been incidents of attempted arson and some towers have been damaged in New Zealand, this post circulates an old image that likely originated in the United States.

False – The primary claims of the content are factually inaccurate.

* AAP FactCheck is accredited by the Poynter Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network, which promotes best practice through a stringent and transparent Code of Principles. https://factcheck.aap.com.au/