Story at a glance
- Falsehoods have swirled online claiming Gates created the coronavirus for his own benefit.
- Misinformation about Gates has been mentioned on social media and television 1.2 million times from February to April, reportedly more than any other coronavirus conspiracy theory tracked by Zignal Labs, a media analysis firm.
- The 10 most popular YouTube videos spreading misinformation about Gates and COVID-19 have been viewed nearly 5 million times.
Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates has become a top target of coronavirus conspiracy theories and misinformation online, according to a report by The New York Times.
A range of falsehoods aimed at the billionaire are spreading across YouTube, Facebook and Twitter at an alarming rate, with conspiracy theories claiming Gates created COVID-19 as a way to profit from a virus vaccine, or as means to implement a global surveillance system, according to the Times.
Misinformation about Gates and the deadly virus were mentioned on social media and television 1.2 million times from February to April, more than any other coronavirus conspiracy theory, peaking at 18,000 mentions a day in April, media analysis firm Zignal Labs told the Times.
The Times reported more than 16,000 Facebook posts about Gates and the coronavirus generated 900,000 likes and comments this year. The 10 most popular YouTube videos spreading falsehoods about Gates and COVID-19 were viewed almost 5 million times in March and April.
Gates’s 2015 speech in which he predicted an infectious virus was more likely to kill millions of people than nuclear war has received 25 million new views in recent weeks, and the Times reports anti-vaxxers, right-wing pundits and members of the conspiracy group QAnon claim the video is evidence he plans to use the pandemic for his personal gain.
Gates has been an outspoken critic of the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic, although he hasn’t addressed President Trump by name. Following Trump’s decision to halt funding to the World Health Organization (WHO), Gates took to Twitter calling the decision “as dangerous as it sounds.” He also criticized the administration in a Washington Post op-ed saying there’s “no question the United States missed the opportunity to get ahead of the novel coronavirus.”
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Conspiracy theorists have also misrepresented recent comments Gates made in March suggesting “digital certificates” could be used to track who has recovered from the virus, claiming Gates wants to put microchips in people’s bodies. That claim was echoed by former Trump campaign adviser Roger Stone in a recent radio interview, according to The New York Post.
Gates’s charity, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has supported public health initiatives all across the globe and has pledged $250 million to help combat the coronavirus. The foundation is also helping to develop a coronavirus vaccine.
While Gates has refused to comment on the issue, Mark Suzman, chief executive of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation told the Times that it was “distressing that there are people spreading misinformation when we should all be looking for ways to collaborate and save lives.”
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