Bill Gates calls COVID-19 vaccine conspiracy theories 'wild' and 'unexpected'
As coronavirus cases increase worldwide, Facebook (FB) and other social networks have exploded with conspiracy theories about the search for a vaccine, including false claims of a conspiracy to research research that vaccines can damage people's immune systems.
Microsoft co-founder and former CEO Bill Gates, who has been targeted by vaccine conspiracy theorists, says these “wild stories” raise concerns about people's willingness to take a vaccine when it finally becomes available to the public .
"You know, we've always been a little careful ... about vaccines, but not the idea of associating them with a conspiracy, like microchips to track them, or things that ... even inside one It wouldn't be all that believable, ”said Gates, co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Yahoo Finance editor-in-chief Andy Serwer, in an interview broadcast during Yahoo Finance's All Markets Summit on Monday.
"A wild new element that I did not expect"
Gates has spoken about following appropriate medical advice about coronavirus. But he said he was still surprised to find himself, as was Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading infectious disease expert, who has been implicated in conspiracies over attempts to develop a vaccine.
"The wave of wild stories about the vaccine, which you know is a conspiracy, is based on evil intent and often relates to either myself or Dr. Fauci. This is a wild new element that I did not expect" said Gates said in an interview recorded on October 15.
Bill Gates is seen before speaking to Warren Buffett (not pictured), Chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, at Columbia University in New York, the United States, on Jan. 27, 2017. REUTERS / Shannon Stapleton TPX PICTURES OF THE DAY
The fear of such conspiracies, which have spread like wildfire on social networks like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube (toget, togetL), Twitter (TWTR), and others, is that people will forego vaccinations and refuse to wear them Take masks or other preventive measures.
"You have to wonder if this will result in things like wearing a mask or willingness to take the vaccine being affected," Gates said. "I am still confident that 30% of the population understand that this will benefit other people and that they come first."
In the first few months of the pandemic, lies about the coronavirus surfaced on social media websites, be it about its origin, treatments, mitigation measures or vaccine candidates. Different theories range from fabricated claims that the virus came from a laboratory in China to the outright lie that masks cannot stop the virus from spreading.
During a Senate Commerce Committee hearing with the CEOs of Google, Twitter and Facebook on Wednesday, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) voiced his own concerns about President Donald Trump's use of social media websites to spread disinformation about viruses. Legislators referred to a video Trump posted on Facebook and Twitter from an interview with Fox News in which he claimed without evidence that children were immune to the coronavirus.
"He said that children ... are almost immune to this disease," said Blumenthal.
United States President Donald Trump takes a break while speaking during a briefing on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic response at the White House in Washington, the United States, on August 12, 2020. REUTERS / Kevin Lamarque TPX PICTURES OF THE DAY
Both Twitter and Facebook subsequently shut down the video for violating their rules on misinformation related to the virus.
In his interview with Yahoo Finance, Gates admitted that social media websites “do more” to curb the spread of misinformation. YouTube said this month that it would remove misleading information about potential coronavirus vaccines after previously saying it would also remove content promoting bogus treatments for the virus.
Facebook, meanwhile, said it would reject any ads that prevent people from getting vaccinated worldwide. However, the website does not prohibit posts about conspiracies.
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Twitter has also taken steps to combat virus misinformation, post about the virus, and fact-check marks on false tweets. In May, both Facebook and Twitter removed a now infamous video on the conspiracy theory "Plandemic" alleging that known people took advantage of the coronavirus pandemic for their own benefit.
But the deluge of fake content from around the world continues, thanks in part to the massive size of these companies. And it's not just a US-only problem. According to a September analysis by The Guardian, exposure to UK anti-vaccine posts on Facebook tripled in one month between July and August.
Despite the spread of this misinformation, Gates hopes that the truth of the pandemic is more convincing than the fictions circulating on the internet and that people are more than willing to receive the vaccine to stop the exponential spread of the virus.
"I hope we can make the truth more interesting than what you know is a simplistic explanation of what is going on with this pandemic," he said.
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