It's been a while, but this week I allowed arguing with strangers on the internet to get the better of me.
I spent a couple of hours on Saturday, and more on Sunday, trying to convince people that 5G wasn't harmful. Some in more depth than others: one nice man, who identified himself as an MD from Harvard Medical School, had a very cordial conversation over email, of which I eventually tapped out when he started explaining that "many (but not all) aspects of 'energy healing' can be explained as EMF interactions".
Another, much more tetchy but still detailed conversation, was called off when I actually paid attention to the Twitter avatar of the man I was talking with and realised it read "Bashar Al-Assad, Hero of Our Time".
A third, thankfully carried out mostly overnight, preventing me spending much time on it, resulted in the person who had initially sent me a piece that Scientific American should be ashamed of publishing getting frustrated at my silence and following up with a long list of David Icke videos I should be watching.
I mostly try to avoid, these days, responding to people with "you are a crank with crank views and you will never be persuaded your crank views are wrong", but I came close for the people who not only argued that 5G was harmful but that it is specifically causing Covid-19.
Of course, I didn't manage to convince anyone. How could I? If you're convinced enough of the health risks of 5G to email a newspaper reporter to chide him for writing a piece which doesn't give credit to those risks, you're probably a lost cause.
But it's hard to remember that. Harder than normal, I think, because this is one of the first times in my career that the people bombarding me with angry messages have been, simply and straightforwardly, wrong. When they're wrong – when the basic facts they are sending you are simply incorrect, and provably so – it's so tempting to try and correct them. Surely if they knew that the UK doesn't use mmwave technology, or if they understood the difference between ionising radiation and non-ionising radiation, they'd change their minds?
This is, of course, nonsense. Most people know nothing about 5G, as is good and healthy. Ignorance of the facts is not the defining feature of those people who decide to ignore mainstream science, medicine and governments.
If anything, it's the other way round. The distrust comes first; the ignorance follows. A widely-discussed feature of the modern internet is that it allows you to prove anything. No matter the point you want to make, a search will find you other people who believe the same thing, with all the evidence you could want for backing up your beliefs. And so if you hear that something is up with 5G, it doesn't take long to find yourself staring at alarming documents written by plausible-sounding organisations begging for action.
It's frustrating that all this is kicking off now, though, because it's an area where I'd love to be in the office and tap into some institutional memory. I was too young, at the time, to be a working journalist (or even to be literate) during the MMR hoax, or the panic around GM crops, but both were learning experiences for the journalists who did cover them – in terms of how to write about false health scares, of course, but also about how to talk to editors, readers, and friends and family who may not believe in the scare, but do believe in the need for balance.
We're lucky in one respect: unlike MMR, in particular, there's not an Andrew Wakefield figure around which a movement can gel. The 5G fears are more akin to the wider anti-vax movement – with diffuse personalities, claims and purposes – than it is that specific scandal. That also means that there's been less for mainstream sympathisers to latch on to. But unlike MMR, you don't need a double-page spread in a Sunday newspaper to kick-start this.
Still, however it was spread, it's very clearly got a strong support. There's certain things I've seen enough now to know that they're extremely important to the community: a letter to the EU signed by 240 "scientists" calling on 5G to be banned; the aforementioned bad Scientific American piece; a 2013 academic paper purporting to give an extremely niche pathway by which non-ionising radiation could theoretically have an effect on biological tissue. Sometimes I entertain the idea of sitting down and writing a detailed response to each, so that I can pull up the links and just fire them off, one, two, three, as people come to me with their fears.
But then I remember that someone will always be wrong on the internet, and I have better things to do.
Final Fantasy VII: Remake is good and I'm stunned
A remake of a 20 year old game, which abandons the actual gameplay of the original, expands and distends the story to a degree that even Peter Jackson would be embarrassed of, and foregoes elaborate aesthetic expression in favour of down-the-line "realism", should not be good.
And yet! Here we are. Final Fantasy VII: Remake has, by all accounts, achieved the impossible.
For non-gamers, this is as though… I don't know, imagine the most recent Bond film had been awful (yeah, hard to conceive of, I know), and the same team decided to remake Doctor No as a trilogy, and you'd be halfway there.
I've not actually played it yet – it's out on Friday morning – but I'm just flagging here that this may become a Final Fantasy newsletter for a short period.
we're all watching esports now that football's died