NO one has been dragged into viral Covid-19-related disinformation more than US technology billionaire and philanthropist Bill Gates, writes Frederico Links.
Almost everyone with a smartphone and membership to a WhatsApp group should know his name by now.
The #CoronaVirusFacts Alliance – consisting of fact checkers in over 70 countries across the globe – of the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) has page after page of fact checks and debunks of Covid-19-related falsehoods in which Gates is mentioned on its database.
Since the beginning of the pandemic Gates has been a prominent target in the flood of disinformation that has been flowing around the world in waves over various social media and messaging platforms.
This flood of falsehoods was dubbed a ‘disinfodemic’ by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) in April 2020 already.
By the end of that month a New York Times and Zignal Labs analysis of pandemic-related falsehoods found that Gates had by then already been mentioned over a million times in much-shared fake news postings, and that he featured in over 33% of such false online content.
Although the ‘disinfodemic’ tide has subsided somewhat since the first half of 2020, the falsehoods around Gates and Covid-19 stubbornly refuse to die down.
PREDICTIONS, PATENTS AND CHIPS
References to Gates being connected to the novel coronavirus first started appearing in January 2020.
That month, false information spread via social media about Gates predicting the outbreak; and that 65 million people would die; that he funded an institute that held the patent to the novel coronavirus, and that he had developed a vaccine for the virus that would “eradicate Africans”.
In March 2020 a particular conspiracy theory first went viral that would remain durable to this day: that Gates had developed an electronic chip that would be implanted in people through vaccinations against Covid-19.
According to this conspiracy theory, Gates’ alleged diabolical aim was global mind control under the cover of eradicating the virus that he helped create.
From there conspiracy theories emerged which accused Gates of being in cahoots with the Vatican and the World Health Organisation (WHO) to steal people’s genetic material and to depopulate the world.
By April 2020, viral posts stated that Gates had made deals with African governments to test vaccines on Africans, and that people should refuse the “Bill Gates vaccines”, because they were “poison”.
At the time, it was also falsely alleged that Gates had by then taken over the WHO and was prescribing treatment for Covid-19.
Since then, Gates has been falsely linked to 5G-rollout conspiracy theories, “digital tattoos” for population control, funding a Chinese lab to develop the coronavirus, as well as appearing on banknotes with the coronavirus.
And so it went on and on.
By January 2021, Gates’ global population control plot via vaccines was still a staple of the viral anti-vaccine conspiracy theories. Various versions of these viral falsehoods and conspiracy theories have been recycled repeatedly from Australia to Taiwan, from Canada to Chile, from Nigeria to Ukraine, and of course, across Namibian social media spaces.
‘The Conspiracy Theory Handbook’ that came out in March 2020, notes that people become susceptible to conspiracy theories in times of great stress, when they’re feeling powerless, when they can’t explain unlikely events, and when they distrust mainstream politics.
In a climate such as this, wealthy, powerful elites, such as Gates, are often seen as the enemy and become the focus of anger.
Added to this, social media have played a critical role in amplifying damaging falsehoods and dangerous conspiracy theories by creating “a world in which any individual can potentially reach as many people as mainstream media”.
*(This article was first published in The Namibian newspaper of February 19, 2021).