WASHINGTON: False claims targeting billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates are gaining traction online since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, with experts warning they could hamper efforts to curb the virus.
Doctored photos and fabricated news articles crafted by conspiracy theorists — shared thousands of times on social media platforms and messaging apps, in various languages — have gone as far as accusing the Microsoft founder of creating the outbreak.
Gates, who has pledged $250 million to efforts to fight the pandemic, is the latest in a string of online targets despite the World Health Organization’s efforts to fight what it called an “infodemic” — misinformation fanned by panic and confusion about the virus.
In recent months, 5G networks and Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros have also been blamed for creating COVID-19, which has killed more than 315,000 people around the world.
“Bill Gates has always been a target of specific conspiracy communities,” said Rory Smith, research manager at First Draft, a nonprofit that provides research and training for journalists. Gates — whose eponymous foundation has spent billions of dollars improving health care in developing countries over the past 20 years — has become “a kind of abstract boogeyman,” said Whitney Phillips, an assistant professor at New York’s Syracuse University, where she teaches digital ethics.
A video accusing Gates of wanting “to eliminate 15 percent of the population” through vaccination and electronic microchips has racked up nearly 2 million views on YouTube.
FP Fact Check has debunked dozens of similar rumors circulating online.