FactCheck Social Media

Phone antennas outside a college aren’t a new addition to the neighbourhood

2020-05-25 14:40:43

The Statement

Conspiracy theories involving 5G telecommunications have been circulating during the COVID-19 pandemic, with a recent example being a social media claim that “new” mobile phone towers have been installed in a Sydney suburb during the lockdown.

The May 15 Facebook post caption reads: “Stay home & help prevent the spread of covid??? Here u go 3 new towers with radiation warnings on them installed in front of a college, safe to go back to school now.”

The photo in the Facebook post shows two power poles carrying mobile phone base station antennas on the left side of a road, with a third pole, also mounted with antennas, obscured by a tree further along. The poles are in front of a sign that reads “The Hills College” and bears the logo of the NSW TAFE technical colleges.

The Facebook post has been shared over 990 times, viewed over 50,000 times and attracted over 500 comments.

Phone towers
 A Facebook post claims mobile phone towers photographed on a roadside are recently installed. 

The Analysis

Claims of a link between the current COVID-19 pandemic and 5G telecommunications technology have increased during the disease outbreak. Protests against 5G in Melbourne and northern New South Wales recently resulted in people being arrested for breaking social distancing regulations. In the UK conspiracy theories have resulted in phone towers being attacked.

A recent Parliamentary Report acknowledged misinformation spread on social media about 5G has damaged how communities perceive the technology.

“Community confidence in 5G has been shaken by extensive misinformation preying on the fears of the public spread via the internet, and presented as facts, particularly through social media,” the report reads.

Despite experts and government agencies having addressed and debunked theories linking COVID-19 with 5G networks, social media users are still railing against the technology.

The May 15 Facebook post claims that “3 new towers with radiation warnings on them” have been installed in front of a college. The post features a photo of two clearly visible cell tower masts and a third obscured by trees. The masts are circled, while a sign for “The Hills College” has an arrow pointing to it.

AAP FactCheck has previously debunked claims seeking to correlate telecommunications rollouts with virus outbreaks or claiming long-standing phone towers are 5G towers erected during the coronavirus lockdown.

AAP FactCheck has traced the location of the image the May 15 post to the TAFE NSW campus on Old Northern Rd, Baulkham Hills, in Sydney’s north-western suburbs.

Google Street View shows the three telco masts located in front of the campus in photos taken in 2009 (see two different angles here and here) – more than nine years before the post claimed they were “new”.

In an email to AAP FactCheck a Telstra spokesperson confirmed that the two towers closest to the Hills campus sign are owned by the telco company and have been on site since 2006 and 2007 respectively. The third tower is from another provider, a Telstra spokesperson said.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) Site Location Map lists telecommunications masts around the country.

The map shows a Telstra site, numbered 900772 at the address of the phone towers in the photo – 146-160 Old Northern Rd, Baulkham Hills. Telstra’s own coverage map for the same address shows the site provides 4G network coverage at the same address.

Mobile phone antennas
 A Facebook post makes incorrect claims about a series of mobile phone antennas being erected during lockdown. 

The Verdict

Based on the evidence, AAP FactCheck found the Facebook post to be false. The phone antennas pictured in the May 15 Facebook post are not “new”. The three towers appear in a Google Street View image  in front of the TAFE Baulkham Hills campus taken in 2009. Telstra, which owns two of the three masts, has confirmed its towers have been there since 2006 and 2007 respectively.

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://aap.com.au/