Bill Gates says he has been taken aback by the volume of ‘crazy’ and ‘evil’ conspiracy theories that have been spreading about him on social media since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Microsoft co-founder turned philanthropist said he has been the subject of millions of online posts and ‘crazy conspiracy theories’, and insists he would like to get to the bottom of what’s behind them.
The wild theories involving Gates, whose foundation has donated over a billion to coronavirus vaccine and treatment research, include unfounded claims he developed COVID-19 in a lab and wants to use the vaccine to implant microchip tracking devices into billions of people.
Another leading public figure in the fight against the pandemic, Dr. Anthony Fauci, has also become a target of several conspiracies, including claims he created the virus and is now blocking natural cures for it.
‘Nobody would have predicted that I and Dr. Fauci would be so prominent in these really evil theories,’ Gates told Reuters Wednesday.
‘I’m very surprised by that. I hope it goes away.’
Bill Gates says he has been taken aback by the volume of ‘crazy’ and ‘evil’ conspiracy theories that have been spreading about him on social media during the COVID-19 pandemic
Health professionals say vaccine misinformation could have lethal consequences if it leads people to opt for bogus cures instead
Gates, a billionaire who stepped down as chairman of Microsoft Corp in 2014, has through his philanthropic Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation committed at least $1.75 billion to the global response to the COVID-19.
Since the pandemic began a year ago,conspiracies have spread over the internet, fueling misinformation about the coronavirus, its origins and the motives of those working to fight it.
In the first few months of the pandemic alone, between February and April last year, conspiracy theories and misinformation linking Gates to the origins of COVID-19 were mentioned more than 1.2 million times on television and social media, according to a New York Times study.
Then, in May 2020, a Yahoo News/You Gov poll found that 28 percent of US adults believed that Gates was plotting to use a potential vaccine to implant microchips into billions of people to track their movements.
Meanwhile, other conspiracies gathered momentum that included claims Gates was seeking to cull 15 percent of the population with the vaccine, and he was also falsely quoted as saying the vaccine would ‘no doubt’ kill 700,000 people.
At Trump rallies, anti-lockdown protests, and Q-Anon drives, countless participants have been observed holding signs supporting the Gates conspiracies, that often include the tagline ‘#SayNoToBillGates’.
The genesis of the distorted theories is believed to date back to a 2015 video, when, during a TED Talk in Vancouver, Gates issued a dire warning that, ‘if anything kills over 10 million people over the next few decades, it is likely to be a highly infectious virus, rather than a war.’
Conspiracy theorists claim the premonition is proof that Gates had prior knowledge about the coronavirus.
During his Wednesday interview with Reuters, Gates asked: ‘But do people really believe that stuff?
‘We’re really going to have to get educated about this over the next year and understand… how does it change peoples’ behavior and how should we have minimized this?’
In the first few months of the pandemic alone, between February and April last year, conspiracy theories and misinformation linking Gates to the origins of COVID-19 were mentioned more than 1.2 million times
During his Wednesday interview with Reuters, Gates asked: ‘But do people really believe that stuff?’
What Are Some of the Bill Gates Conspiracy Theories?
The main conspiracy theory involving Gates is that he intends to use the COVID-19 vaccine to implant a microchip into the arms of billions of people to track their movements.
A theory that Gates wanted to cull 15 percent of the population through the vaccine has also been peddled, as have false claims that he developed the deadly virus in a lab.
Other baseless theories include:
- The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has tested vaccines on children in Africa and India, leading to thousands of deaths and irreversible injuries.
- He is accused of rolling out a tetanus vaccine in Kenya that includes abortion drugs.
- Gates falsely accused of saying the COVID vaccine would ‘no doubt’ kill at least 700,000 people.
Gates offered a similar bemusement to the conspiracies during a key-note address at the World Congress of Science & Factual Producers in December.
‘I’m surprised at all the conspiracy theories — people who think the vaccine is not meant to save lives. That’s all wrong, but the scale of it is a bit scary in terms of, will that prevent people from being willing to take the vaccine, and why are they looking for these simple explanations?’
Gates said the goal of his foundation’s vaccine development work is to advance public goods for global health through technological innovation by accelerating the development and commercialization of novel vaccines and the sustainable manufacture of existing ones.
‘Even [U.S. coronavirus expert] Dr. Fauci or myself, our basic motivation for being involved in this work has been questioned; maybe there’s something malign about that,’ Gates said. ‘I’m hopeful that the digital tools can get the truth out, as well as it’s gotten these conspiracy theories out.’
Bill Gates, who is America’s biggest owner of private farmland, is among the world’s richest people, with only Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos boasting deeper pockets.
Prof Joseph Uscinski, a political scientist at the University of Miami and author of books on conspiracy theories, told the BBC last year said Gates has become a ‘voodoo doll’ of conspiracies simply because he is rich and famous.
‘Conspiracy theories are about accusing powerful people of doing terrible things,’ he said. ‘The theories are basically the same, just the names change.
‘Before Bill Gates, it was George Soros and the Koch brothers and the Rothchilds and the Rockefellers.’
Gates, a billionaire who stepped down as chairman of Microsoft Corp in 2014, has through his philanthropic Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation committed at least $1.75 billion to the global response to the COVID-19
At Trump rallies, anti-lockdown protests, and Q-Anon drives, countless participants have been observed holding signs supporting the Gates conspiracies, that often read ‘#SayNoToBillGates’
While Uscinski says the majority of conspiracy theories ‘die on the vine’, the ones that endure are those that offer ‘big villains and address issues that people care about’.
‘It should come as no surprise that rich people and big corporations are being accused of conspiring to put chips in our necks because that is a thing we fear,’ he said. ‘This has been the ammo of conspiracy theories for a long, long time.’
The rise of social media has also helped to propel theories such as the ones involving Gates into the public sphere.
‘Before the internet, they were self-contained and existed only in their own echo chambers or bubbles within certain communities, but the internet allows them to travel across political lines, between communities, so I think there is much more scope to mainstream conspiracy theories than before the internet,’ Rory Smith, from fact-checkers First Draft News, also told the BBC.
He added that conspiracy theories have particularly flourished amid the pandemic because people are more ‘psychologically vulnerable.’
‘This crisis is unprecedented in size and scope and the advice shifts as new studies are published. There are large areas of uncertainty and humans abhor uncertainty,’ Smith said.
‘We grab onto any information to inject some sort of sense and order and that is when the rumor mill starts. Conspiracy theories – and notably Bill Gates conspiracy theories – fill these informational vacuums.’
The rise of social media has also helped to propel theories such as the ones involving Gates into the public sphere, as people are said to be more ‘psychologically vulnerable’
Looking ahead, Gates praised Dr. Fauci and Francis Collins, head of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, as ‘smart’ and ‘wonderful people’ to Reuters on Wednesday.
Gates said he’s looking forward to seeing them be able to work effectively and speak the truth under the new administration of Joe Biden.
During former President Donald Trump’s handling of the pandemic, Gates said, it had ‘sometimes felt like they were the only sane people in the U.S. government.’
‘I’m excited about the team that Biden has picked’ to tackle the health crisis, Gates said.
Gates said he was also pleased that under Biden, the United States has rejoined the World Health Organization, and ‘that he’s appointed smart people, and the fact that Dr. Fauci won’t be suppressed.’