A couple weeks ago, I asked Vergecast listeners to send me real-world examples of meaningful 5G experiences since the 5G hype-industrial complex so intensely overpromised what the tech would deliver. My go-to example is the impressive network capacity at NFL stadiums, which has allowed thousands of people to simultaneously livestream the Eras Tour at every stop, but that’s basically all I can think of.
What I was not expecting was for so many people to send me versions of a video that shows a banana getting stitches in a robotic surgery device, with the captions claiming that the surgery is being done remotely over 5G. This video has had an incredible journey; it has been reposted dozens of times across multiple platforms, all with the same basic claim: a surgeon in London did surgery over 5G on a banana in California. It is such a reliable driver of social video views that it just keeps coming back. Product Hunt just posted it this month!
This post on X from “TechBurrito Uno” is a great example — and it is a particularly funny example because of the unlinked credit. It now has 15.1 million views and, as with any video that goes viral, lots of other accounts that uncritically chase views also reposted it, sometimes with threads about how it shows the future and why that means you should definitely sign up for their newsletters.
A surgeon based in London performed a remote surgery on a banana located in California utilizing 5G technology, showcasing the incredible potential of this method.
Credit: kaisthesurgeon pic.twitter.com/oagecE3Y0Y
— Tech Burrito (@TechBurritoUno) January 18, 2023
Once that sort of thing starts happening on the social platforms, the story tends to break out onto the web, where posting fast and loose stories about viral videos can generate some cheap traffic. So here we have 5GWorldPro.com, a site that appears to be an SEO honeypot for 5G training seminars, writing an entire story about this video that claims “the low latency of 5G is the main enabler here.”
Well, you knew what was coming. None of these people ever verified that the claims in the video were true or that the video actually showed a robotic surgery on a banana being performed over 5G. I leave it as an exercise for you, the reader, to determine why no one asked basic questions about the claims in this video — Who was the doctor? What robotic surgery tool was used? Was there a press release about it? Which networks were involved? — instead of just posting it for clout.
What I will offer you are some very simple answers.
This video does not in any way show a robotic surgery being done over 5G. The video was first posted to TikTok during the pandemic by Dr. Kais Rona, who is a bariatric and robotic surgeon at Smart Dimensions Weight Loss in Southern California, and he’s been actively telling people that it’s not 5G ever since.
I sent Dr. Rona a message on Instagram. I emailed the contact address on his website. And I called the office enough times to make the very kind receptionist say, “It’s about the banana video again,” to someone sitting next to her. And I cannot tell you how excited I was when Dr. Rona emailed me back and agreed to a short interview.
“I did surgery on this banana, but it wasn’t over 5G,” Dr. Rona told me.
“I saw someone post my video and say it’s some surgeon in New York performing an operation on someone in London, and I was like, wait, what is this?” he says. “I commented, ‘This is not true, this is my video.’”
“So yeah, it’s false. The procedure was done in Los Angeles. The banana was in Los Angeles.”
Dr. Rona made the video during the pandemic when his clinic wasn’t open to patients, and he wanted to practice using his Da Vinci Xi robotic surgery device. “I was like, you know, what can I do to maintain my skills? So I would take fruit to the operating room and practice on bananas and other fruit. I thought it’s kind of interesting, and people might like to see this. And so I posted it, and it went viral.”
As you’d expect, Dr. Rona has mixed feelings about the situation and how medical information spreads on social media after experiencing this video’s journey.
“Misinformation spreads like wildfire on social media,” he says. “I think it’s good and it’s bad, like anything else. I think it’s good to have exposure, and you can get correct and factual information from other physicians, whether they’re GI specialists or cardiologists, but a lot of times, people will post things that are untrue or repost things from doctors and change the message, and that could be dangerous for sure.”
There has been one other important result of this video going so viral for Dr. Rona. “I feel like I’m turning into a banana specialist,” he says with a laugh. “My friends make fun of me. They’re like, ‘Oh, you just operate on fruit all day.’”