As the world continues to fight the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, one name has seemingly become a target for those wanting to peddle conspiracy theories and misinformation online – Bill Gates.

This according to The New York Times which, over the weekend, published a report with the help of research firm Zignal Labs. The latter specialises in analysing media data, and found that Bill Gates was mentioned in relation to conspiracy theories 1.2 million times on TV and social media in February and April. This surpassed the second highest conspiracy that 5G causes COVID-19.

Zignal Labs also highlights that mentions of Gates peaked at 18 000 during one day in April.

While the research firm does not detail which day in April the peak was, we have a suspicion that it was around the time that his name trended on Twitter following a now debunked News24 story which stated that Gates and his Foundation were working on testing a coronavirus vaccine in Africa.

The story was false, and News24 has since offered a tepid apology regarding the piece, but sentiment about the Microsoft founder still remains divided as a result.

As such it appears as if once trusted media sources are becoming as responsible for the spread of misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic as less legitimate outlets are.

Consequently, it’s important for journalists, media outlets and the public in general to be more critical of the information they see online in these chaotic times.

As for where this misinformation is spreading furthest, unsurprisingly Facebook is the leading platform, with Zignal Labs pointing to 16 000 hoax posts, which have been liked or commented on roughly 900 000 times.

YouTube is also a popular source for spreading Gates-related misinformation, with the top 10 videos about Gates conspiracy theories viewed close to five million times in March and April.

The New York Times reached out to Gates for comment on the findings, but he turned down the opportunity. Mark Suzman, chief executive of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation did, however, tell the publication that it was, “distressing that there are people spreading misinformation when we should all be looking for ways to collaborate and save lives.”

We have to agree with Suzman on that front.

[Image – ND BY/2.0 OnInnovation]