Bill Gates is now the favorite target for coronavirus misinformation according to data compiled by the New York Times and Zignal Labs, a company that analyzes media sources. Conspiracy theories conflating Gates with the virus were mentioned 1.2 million times on TV and social media from February to April, 33 percent more often than the 2nd most popular conspiracy theory linking 5G with COVID-19, according to Zignal Labs, peaking at 18,000 mentions a day in April.
Hoaxes directed at the Microsoft co-founder turned philanthropist, are all over YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. The New York Times found 16,000 posts on Facebook this year that were liked and commented on nearly 900,000 times. The 10 most popular Youtube videos spreading misinformation about Gates and the virus were viewed almost five millions times in March and April. The falsehoods being spread vary, but range from him creating COVID-19 in order to profit from a vaccine, or of Gates being a member of a plot to cull humanity and/or implement a global surveillance system.
A Bill Gates speech from 2015, where he warns that the greatest threat to humanity is infectious disease, not nuclear war, has received 25 million new views in recent weeks. According to the New York Times, anti-vaxxers, right-wing pundits, and members of the conspiracy group QAnon claim the video is evidence of Gates’ dastardly plan to use a pandemic for his personal gain.
Gates has long been an outspoken critic of President Trump. On Wednesday, he said Trump’s decision to defund WHO was “as dangerous as it sounds,” although he didn’t call out the president by name. Gates also criticized the administration in a recent op-ed, saying “There’s no question the United States missed the opportunity to get ahead of the novel coronavirus.”
Although Gates refused to comment on his new-found notoriety, Mark Suzman, chief executive of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, told the NYT that it was “distressing that there are people spreading misinformation when we should all be looking for ways to collaborate and save lives.”