Bill Gates, the bo­gey­man of virus con­spir­acy the­o­rists

Gates ac­cused of want­ing ‘to elim­i­nate 15% of the pop­u­la­tion’

Kuwait Times - - Internatio­nal -

PARIS: 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 Hun­gar­i­anAmer­i­can 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 non-profit that pro­vides re­search and train­ing for jour­nal­ists.

Gates - whose epony­mous foun­da­tion has spent bil­lions of dol­lars im­prov­ing health­care 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 two mil­lion views on YouTube. Sim­i­lar al­le­ga­tions “ex­ploded” be­tween Jan­uary and April, Smith said.

Since the start of the crisis, AFP Fact Check has de­bunked dozens of anti-Gates ru­mors cir­cu­lat­ing on plat­forms like Face­book, What­sApp and In­sta­gram in lan­guages in­clud­ing English, French, Span­ish, Pol­ish and Czech. A num­ber of ac­cu­sa­tions, in­clud­ing posts claim­ing that the FBI ar­rested Gates for bi­o­log­i­cal ter­ror­ism or that he sup­ports a Western plot to poi­son Africans, share a com­mon thread.

They ac­cuse the ty­coon of ex­ploit­ing the crisis, whether it is to “con­trol peo­ple” or make money from sell­ing vac­cines. “These con­spir­a­cies are pow­er­ful enough to drive down in­sti­tu­tional trust around health or­gan­i­sa­tions, and as a re­sult, pos­si­bly drive down vac­ci­na­tion rates, which is wor­ry­ing,” Smith said. Gates’ vo­cal crit­i­cism of US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and sup­port for vac­cine de­vel­op­ment made him “the per­fect scapegoat for a crisis that emerges on the in­ter­sec­tion of tech­nol­ogy and (med­i­cal) sci­ence,” Kinga Polynczuk-Ale­nius, a so­cial sciences re­searcher at Fin­land’s Univer­sity of Helsinki, wrote in a univer­sity blog post.

It is not the first time Gates has found him­self at the mercy of con­spir­acy the­o­rists. When Zika virus broke out in 2015 in Brazil, he was one of sev­eral pow­er­ful Western fig­ures blamed for the dis­ease. Other ru­mors claim that he is se­cretly a lizard, an old fa­vorite among on­line trolls. “He hasn’t be­come con­spir­acists’ fa­vorite tar­get, he has been (their fa­vorite tar­get) for a long time,” Syl­vain Delou­vee, a so­cial psy­chol­ogy re­searcher at France’s Univer­sity of Rennes said.

The re­cent ex­plo­sion in false claims could be ex­plained as a cop­ing mech­a­nism dur­ing the global crisis, Smith said. “Peo­ple are con­stantly look­ing for in­for­ma­tion to make sense out of this re­al­ity, and hav­ing these con­spir­a­cies of­fers a con­ve­nient way of hav­ing power over your sit­u­a­tion,” he said. The pan­demic has also pro­vided fer­tile breed­ing ground for at­tacks on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foun­da­tion, par­tic­u­larly by anti-vac­cine cam­paign­ers whose in­flu­en­tial on­line pres­ence was al­ready brewing years be­fore the virus emerged. The char­ity’s hu­man­i­tar­ian work in Africa, where mis­in­for­ma­tion about Gates is par­tic­u­larly present, and fi­nan­cial sup­port of the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion - it is the agency’s sec­ond-largest donor - have fed ru­mors of dark se­crets and ploys for power.

—AFP

BER­LIN: A pro­tester wears a face mask read­ing ‘Give Gates (re­fer­ring to Bill Gates) no Chance’ as she at­tends a protest against re­stric­tions im­ple­mented in or­der to limit the spread of the novel coronaviru­s near the Chan­cellery in Ber­lin.

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