What is 5G?, is one of the top trending tech questions, according to the Google Year in Search for 2020. (AP Photo/John Locher)
What is 5G?, is one of the top trending tech questions, according to the Google Year in Search for 2020. (AP Photo/John Locher)

The Infonomist: What is 5G?

By Opinion Time of article published Dec 18, 2020

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By Wesley Diphoko

What is 5G?, is one of the top trending tech questions, according to the Google Year in Search for 2020. This question has been on people's minds due to false information that has been spread online about 5G. One false claim has been that 5G causes Covid-19.

The truth, according to trusted medical and health institutions such as the World Health Organization (WHO), is that Covid-19 is a coronavirus, like Middle East Respiratory Syndrome and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, both of which are believed to have originated in animals.

Covid-19 is also a respiratory illness that probably came from an animal. According to the WHO, it is transmitted through “respiratory droplets” that come from coughs and sneezes. That is why regions where people live in close proximity to each other, like New York, are seeing the disease advance quickly. It’s also why people who self-isolate are likely to avoid getting the virus if they don’t already have it.

Beyond the clear medical fact that the coronavirus is a virus, and not some toxicity caused by 5G, Covid-19 has also spread everywhere, including places that don’t have 5G. In the US, 5G is fairly limited, and its slow roll-out does not cover much of the country yet.

There is a lot of misinformation circling about the coronavirus, leading the WHO to dub this phenomenon an “infodemic”. In the UK, the government’s media regulator told broadcasters they would face sanctions if they helped to spread any baseless theories linking 5G with the coronavirus.

Google and other leading tech companies have done a lot to stop the spread of misinformation about Covid-19. On Google, you are greeted by trusted sources of health information, followed by updates from major news sources whose information is also sourced from trusted entities.

On YouTube, the results page has a link to trusted websites at the top and a “Top News” heading underneath with videos from reputable news sources. Links to the CDC website also appear directly underneath certain YouTube videos.

The year 2020 has seen a state of emergency for search results, in which Google demotes its regular algorithms in favour of good, old-fashioned human vetting. Although Google indicated that it’s also building more protections into its ranking algorithms, promoting hand-picked information has proven to be a simple and obvious way to reduce the spread of fake news during a crisis.

In Google Search, the results are now part of an initiative called SOS Alerts, which Google describes as an effort to “make emergency information more accessible during a natural or human-caused crisis”.

The most notable aspect of these alerts is that they’re curated by humans. The Google SOS Alert documentation indicates that there are teams around the world who source content from government agencies, first responders, trusted media outlets and NGOs. It also indicates that information is aggregated from other Google products and services such as Google News, Google Maps, Waze and more.

YouTube has since overhauled its algorithms to reduce its chances of serving up conspiracy theories. With the coronavirus in particular, it has suspended ad revenue-sharing for coronavirus videos from sources that haven’t certified that they meet YouTube’s advertiser-friendly guidelines, thereby reducing incentives to post unreliable content.

Google has altered its typical search results; it has also been showing “Top News” from only vetted sources for any searches related to the coronavirus. These searches also include a link to the CDC’s website at the top of the results. Google says that YouTube’s Top News results only come from publishers that have submitted their YouTube channels to Google News and adhere to Google News’ content policies.

Even with such commendable efforts by Google and other tech companies to stop false information from spreading, there are some who still believe that 5G causes Covid-19. Here’s what people need to know about 5G technology:

5G is the 5th generation mobile network. It is a new global wireless standard after 1G, 2G, 3G, and 4G networks.

5G enables a new kind of network that is designed to connect virtually everyone and everything together including machines, objects, and devices. 5G wireless technology is meant to deliver higher multi-Gbps peak data speeds, ultra low latency, more reliability, massive network capacity, increased availability and a more uniform user experience to more users.

Higher performance and improved efficiency empower new user experiences and connect new industries.

5G technology will enable the internet of things to be a reality. In 2020, we’ve seen the acceleration of technology for a number of industries.

This acceleration of technology requires more of 5G. May we see more deployment of 5G to improve technology adoption, especially in areas where there’s less access.

Wesley Diphoko is editor-In-chief of the Fast Company (SA) magazine

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