Reza Ganjavi sits on a white leather sofa in the basement of his house, just outside of Zurich, Switzerland. In his hand, he holds a radiation detector. The device, which is roughly the same size as a mobile phone and costs around $250, is extremely important to him. 

Suddenly, the detector starts to emit a squealing sound. “Is your phone not on flight mode?” he asks. 

Before we can continue with the interview, I quickly adjust the settings on my cell phone.

In an increasingly networked world, Ganjavi is one of a growing number of people who consider themselves acutely sensitive to the technology used to provide wireless and cellular internet connections. The condition is sometimes called “electromagnetic hypersensitivity” or EHS. 

“High-frequency electromagnetic fields have been shown through thousands of studies to cause biological damage,” he explains.

Accordingly, Ganjavi takes great pains to ensure that his home is completely free of pollution from electromagnetic fields.

Ganjavi is not willing to share information about his age or nationality. He uses only wired internet at home and says that his everyday life has been restricted. 

“I still go to the city, I have to,” he says. “But I completely avoid riding the train and I prefer not to fly, as some airlines have WiFi, and people use Bluetooth.” Ganjavi continued: “I used to go to the middle of Zurich to play guitar, or just hang out. I avoid doing that now. If I go to downtown Zurich, it’s so polluted, [my radiation detector] goes through the roof. And I feel it. I get disoriented and I get headaches.”

And Ganjavi’s problems are set to get worse. At present, countries around the world are preparing to launch new 5G data networks. With speeds of up to 10 gigabits per second, they will be 10 times faster than existing 4G ones. 

Telecoms companies claim that this technological leap will revolutionize our lives. But Ganjavi takes a starkly opposing view. He says that 5G will have a disastrous effect on his health and the health of everyone who is exposed to it. 

In order to halt its global rollout, Ganjavi manages two Facebook groups—Stop5G International and Stop5G Switzerland. While there are similar groups around the world, from New Zealand to the UK, Stop5G International is the only truly global one. 

Created in 2017, Stop5G International now has nearly 25,000 members, and it gathers somewhere in the region of a hundred more each week. According to Ganjavi, who has been an activist in this field since 2016, the group is made up of people who are “genuinely worried and concerned about being microwaved around the clock, about our cities turning into microwave ovens.”

“The main problem is that 5G has not been tested for safety,” he says. “It’s also completely unnecessary. The industry is trying to convince people that they need faster download or the internet of things. They don’t.” 

Stop 5G International was originally founded in the Netherlands by a man named John Kuhles. Kuhles has been responsible for several “alternative news” websites and YouTube channels, including Whynotnews and ExomatrixTV, which have posted text and video on crisis actors, chemtrails and a number of other widely debunked conspiracy theories. 

As Stop 5G’s membership grew, Kuhles started looking for someone to help him deal with the increasing workload.

“I met John when I joined the group. We became friends and gained each others’ trust. We respected each others’ level of engagement and vision, so he took me as a co-administrator, says Ganjavi. 

The group’s purpose is to raise awareness among its members of the reported side effects of wireless technology on human health and inform them of the varying status of 5G deployment around the globe. Ordinarily, such a project would present few causes for concern. The problem is that many of the articles posted in the Stop 5G International group come from highly dubious sources.

Fringe media and sensationalism

According to Nika Aleksejeva, a lead researcher at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, the topic of 5G has provoked animated online discussion for some time. 

In early October, Aleksejeva and her team at the Disinformation Lab in Latvia used a content marketing research tool named BuzzSumo to find out which stories about 5G drew the most engagement on social media over the past 12 months.

According to the study’s findings, the five most popular articles each month opposed the new technology. The topics included cities instituting bans, experts and even reports of animals dying after exposure to 5G.

The most common sources of anti-5G coverage in English were YouTube and websites Collective Evolution and Waking Times, both of which have been labeled as conspiracy-pseudoscience media outlets by The Media Bias/Fact Check project.

“We found out that sensational stories, often based on misrepresented facts, against 5G drive more engagement on social media than stories that are either pro-5G or simply neutral,” says Aleksejeva. “Both Collective Evolution and Waking Times are well known for spreading sensationalist stories with little scientific basis.”

Another similar outlet, Health Nut News, published a story about hundreds of birds dying during 5G testing in the Netherlands. The fact-checking website Snopes later shed more light on the origins of that story. 

Although hundreds of starlings did die in mysterious circumstances in The Hague in October 2018, the only nearby 5G test took place in June 2019. According to researchers at the Natural History Museum in Rotterdam and Wageningen University, the birds died after hitting objects like tree branches while in flight. 

An analysis by Coda Story of Stop5G International’s Facebook postings from October 3 to November 23 mirrors Aleksejeva’s findings. Of the last 1,500 posts in the group, 596 featured a media link. Out of those, by far the most common source was YouTube (linked in 278 posts), followed by Waking Times (13), the Daily Mail (12), Scientific American (9), Oasisana, an Italian health news site founded by one of the leaders of Italy’s anti-5G movement Maurizio Martucci, (8) and Collective Evolution (6).

Ganjavi says that he cares more about the information itself rather than the source.

“I judge entities by what they say. There are many parties out there that want to suppress the anti-5G movement,” he explains. He cites a partnership between The New York Times and the telecommunications giant Verizon to expand mobile digital access into schools as a way of educating new readers. “We are talking entities like the New York Times—they are in bed with the industry; just look at the collaboration between the NYT and [the U.S. telecoms company] Verizon.”

Science studies and health concerns

Does the fact that the online 5G debate has been heavily infiltrated by fringe media outlets mean that there is no scientific basis for related health concerns? 

Professor Lennart Hardell, a retired oncologist and former professor at Orebro University Hospital in Sweden, has been studying the effects of electromagnetic fields on human health for over 20 years. He is convinced of the detrimental effects of wireless radiation.

“There are now more than 1,000 studies that show some harmful effects of wireless radiation on human health,” he says.

Hardell has authored more than 350 scientific articles and has been cited more than 12,000 times in academic papers. The studies of his scientific group have consistently shown statistically significant risks of brain tumor development associated with wireless phone use.

“It was only natural for us to look into 5G as well,” says Hardell. “We started asking ourselves basic questions. Is there something fundamentally different about the technology? Could the risks be different?”

Hardell says that since 5G networks will need more base stations located in close proximity to residential buildings in order to operate properly, people’s exposure to electromagnetic fields will be higher than they have previously.

“We already know that this type of exposure is a possible human carcinogen. Why on earth would we want to increase that exposure,” says Hardell.

Hardell felt so strongly about the issue that, in 2017, he teamed up with the Finnish professor Rainer Nyberg to author a document titled 5g The appeal calls on the European Union to stop the rollout of 5G, owing to serious potential public health risks. To date, it has been signed by 268 scientists and medical doctors. 

The appeal was submitted to the European Commission in September 2017, urging the institution to “halt the 5G expansion until independent scientists can assure that the technology will not be harmful for EU-citizens.” 

Hardell is not alone in his efforts. In 2015, a similar appeal was submitted to the World Health Organization and United Nations Environment Program. Titled the International EMF Scientist Appeal, it has been signed by 252 scientists who have published peer-reviewed papers on the biological and health effects of non-ionizing electromagnetic fields.

The current safety guidelines for exposure to wireless radiation have been set at 100 MHz to 300 GHz by the Munich-based International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP). Existing 4G networks operate at frequencies up to 2500 mhz; 5G networks are projected to operate at frequencies up to 52 GHz. Hardell and hundreds of other scientists believe these limits to be too high to adequately safeguard human health.

The chairman of the ICNIRP, Dr. Eric van Rongen, refutes such claims, saying that the organization’s calculations provide sufficient protection.

“The primary effects on which the guidelines are based are heating of the body and tissue. With the guidelines, we aim to prevent overheating,” he says. “There is a large degree of conservatism that goes into the guidelines; even if the limits are exceeded to a minor extent, it won’t immediately lead to a health effect as a result of overheating.”

However, in 5g, the document which calls on the EU to halt the rollout of the new network, Hardell says that “there are numerous recent scientific publications that have shown that electromagnetic fields affect living organisms at levels well below the limits of most international guidelines.”

The largest studies looking into the carcinogenic potential of long-term exposure to wireless radiation of recent years have been those carried out by the U.S. National Toxicology Program and the Italian cancer prevention research body the Ramazzini Institute, both published in 2018.

In the studies, researchers in the U.S. and Italy exposed more than 2,500 rats to the kind of electromagnetic radiation emitted by cellular networks over a two-year time period. Both studies showed a statistically significant increase in the incidence of brain and heart cancer at levels of exposure below the guidelines formulated by the ICNIRP.

Van Rongen says that his team reviewed both studies and concluded that there is no need to change the current limits. The ICNIRP’s full statement can be read here

The fact that no opposition to 5G currently exists on a governmental level means that little stands in the way of technology’s rollout. It also leaves the task of arguing against the global deployment of 5G in the hands of a few activists and committed scientists. 

Ganjavi, for one, is determined not to stand idle while the new networks are launched in Switzerland. 

“I will fight it with all my might,” he says.