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5G and the language of fear

From human experimentation and bird deaths to cellular stress

The 5G debate is particularly interesting from a linguistic point of view because it offers the perfect example of how framing works. Framing, as a theory of mass communication, refers to how the media packages and presents information to the public. In other words, the context within which a subject is placed to influence its impact on the recipient.
Michael Lieberherr
Michael Lieberherr, Communication Consultant
28 September 2021

Framing is the emancipated sister of propaganda. It offers a veiled way of communicating clear, and emotional, messages. Information is framed in a sophisticated manner. It is virtually invisible, but controls opinions through the power of suggestion. In the context of 5G, the language used on social media is very revealing with particularly vivid imagery, and offers a perfect example of targeted framing.


Some of the creative language used in relation to 5G is commented on below with intentional irony. The author should be allowed some licence here although assertions encountered on the subject often exceed his own imagination.

5G is an experiment on humanity/a field trial on humans (as seen in the Aargauer Zeitung on 17 June 2021)

The terms ‘experiment’ and ‘field trial’ are incredibly loaded, implying a serious lack of research – so 32,000 studies on electromagnetic fields, including 4,500 on mobile technology, were not enough then? Another implication is that there’s a lack of knowledge – hmm, first and foremost, it is better software, and the next generation simply builds on what has gone before; that the outcome is undetermined – how could that be the case if the limits remain the same? Are any other radiation levels in environmental law more closely monitored? No, but it is easy to gloss over that if it doesn’t fit the narrative.

Radiation exposure (a term that we see on a daily basis and sometimes even use ourselves, given it now forms part of the vernacular)

Here, we have two negative words combined, because people primarily associate radiation with harmful radiation such as radioactivity or X-rays (and no, not even millimetre waves are classed as ionizing radiation). This overlooks the fact that radiation can also have positive effects. Without radiation, there would be no life. Light and heat are also forms of radiation. The word ‘exposure’ has similarly negative connotations, so the combination of the two words really hits home; despite the fact that total exposure per data unit has in fact decreased with each mobile phone generation and 5G is able to transmit more with less energy. But let’s sweep that under the carpet.

Bird deaths

In this case, the words are combined with images of dead flocks of birds for maximum effect. We have seen headlines such as these for Holland, Thurgau and also southern Italy – Holland had no 5G and the birds, in fact, fell victim to poisonous yew berries; it looks like Thurgau was a case of copy & paste as it too had no 5G network, while in Rome, a storm was responsible.

Bee deaths

Same as for bird deaths. Here, the impact is intensified with pictures of industrious bees. And emotions: older readers will certainly remember the popular series Maya the Bee with vocals by Karel Gott – the real, scientifically indicated reasons for the insect deaths are again glossed over or not even mentioned.

Oxidative cellular stress

While ‘oxidative’ has a positive ring to it due to its association with oxygen, the term ‘stress’ cancels this out and evokes a picture of a lack of oxygen. As some additional explanations are then required in the context of 5G, it’s easier to omit these and focus purely on the negative – conversely, the negative impact can be emphasised by additionally framing more vulnerable people such as older people and children. Naturally, it’s by the by that even a jog around the block causes oxidative stress!

Weapon of mass destruction

The mental imagery evoked by this term is pretty dire. Any further comment is superfluous because the term alone is sufficient to strike fear into the readers’ hearts – interestingly, the transmitting power used wouldn’t be enough to even damage a clover leaf; ask a physicist.


On a serious note: whilst we may smile, we should not downplay the impact of such language when it is repeated ad infinitum until it becomes ‘fact’. Because one thing is clear, framing is subtle and effective, as is very much apparent from political campaigns.


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