In 2015, apparently unpretentious Bill Gates took the stage of the TED conference in Vancouver to issue a terrible warning.
“If something kills over 10 million people in the coming decades, it’s likely to be a highly contagious virus rather than a war,” he told the public.
His pre-scientific words gained some coverage at the time, even from the BBC, but they were largely not heard.
But now, the video of this speech has been viewed over 64 million times – with many people more interested in the reasons behind that speech than in the speech itself.
Some accuse him of leading a global elite class. Others believe that efforts are being made to depopulate the world.
Even more accuse him of making vaccines mandatory or even attempting to implant microchips in people.
The face of public health
“There are a myriad of conspiracies surrounding Bill Gates,” said Rory Smith, from the First Draft News fact controllers.
“It is this type of voodoo doll that all these communities sting with their conspiracies. And it is surprising that it has become the voodoo doll – because it has always been the face of public health.”
Theories that mistakenly link Bill Gates to coronavirus have been mentioned 1.2 million times on television or social media between February and April, according to a study from the New York Times and Zignal Labs.
Much of the content is published on public Facebook groups, from where it is shared millions of times.
First Draft News also found that Chinese viral video site TikTok is becoming a new home for such conspiracies.
The BBC’s anti-disinformation team has researched some of the most bizarre.
- They include claims that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has tested vaccines against children in Africa and India, causing thousands of deaths and irreversible injuries. A post even suggested to face a trial in India.
- He is accused of launching a tetanus vaccine in Kenya that includes abortion medications
- A video on the website of The New American Magazine’s Facebook page continues with the topic of mass depopulation through vaccines and abortion and also connects Gates to the Chinese Communist Party. It has been shared 6,500 times and viewed 200,000 times.
- Meanwhile, a video accusing Gates of wanting to microchip people has garnered nearly two million views on YouTube.
Rich and famous
How did the founder of Microsoft, who poured billions into global healthcare from the philanthropic foundation he runs with his wife Melinda, become the bogeyman of the Covid-19 conspiracy theorists?
The professor. University of Miami political scientist Joseph Uscinski and author of books on conspiracy theories believes it is simply because he is rich and famous.
“Conspiracy theories are about accusing powerful people of doing terrible things,” he told the BBC. “The theories are basically the same, only the names change.
“Before Bill Gates, there were George Soros, the Koch brothers, the Rothchilds and the Rockefellers.”
And while most conspiracy theories “die on the vine”, the ones that last are those that offer “great criminals and address issues that people care about”.
“It shouldn’t be surprising that the wealthy and big corporations are accused of conspiring to put chips in our necks because that’s something we fear,” he said.
“This has been the ammunition of conspiracy theories for a long, long time.”
While he thinks that such conspiracies have “no connection with the truth”, people still seem to fall in love with them.
More than a quarter of all Americans and 44% of Republicans believe that Bill Gates wants to use a Covid-19 vaccine to implant microchips under people’s skin, according to a Yahoo News and YouGov poll.
Smith believes there is often a “kernel of truth” that is taken “out of context”.
So, for example, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funded a study, conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology last year, that looked into the possibility of storing a patient’s vaccination history in a dye scheme. It would be invisible to the naked eye and could be administered under the skin simultaneously with a vaccine.
It is difficult to ascertain the root of the conspiracy theories, but the Internet is thought to be spreading them further.
“Before the Internet, they were self-sufficient and existed only in their echo chambers or bubbles within certain communities, but the Internet allows them to travel through political lines, between communities, so I think there is much more space to integrate conspiracy theories. than before the Internet, “said Smith.
And, he added, conspiracy theories had particularly flourished during this global pandemic because people were “psychologically vulnerable”.
“This crisis is unprecedented in size and scope, and the board changes as new studies are published. There are large areas of uncertainty and humans detest uncertainty,” he said.
To deal with it, individuals resort to something they call collective awareness.
“We collect any information to inject some sort of sense and order and that’s when gossip begins. Conspiracy theories – and in particular Bill Gates’ conspiracy theories – fill these gaps.”
“Have I to laugh”
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which pledged $ 300 million (£ 240 million) to fight Covid-19, remained optimistic about the barrage of false claims.
In a statement to the BBC he said: “We are concerned about the conspiracy theories that are spreading online and the harm they could cause public health.
“At a time like this, when the world is facing an unprecedented health and economic crisis, it is distressing that there are people who spread misinformation when we should all look for ways to collaborate and save lives. Right now, one of the best things we can do to stop the spread of Covid-19 is to spread the facts “.
In an interview with the BBC, Bill Gates expressed surprise that he had become the figurehead of these theories.
“It is worrying that there is so much madness. When we develop the vaccine we would like 80% of the population to take it and if they heard it is a conspiracy and we don’t have people willing to take the vaccine that letting the disease continue to kill the people “.
I am a little surprised that it is focused on me. We are just giving money, writing the check .. and yes, we think we are protecting children from disease, but it has nothing to do with chips and that kind of thing. Sometimes you almost have to laugh. “