Bill Gates "created the COVID-19", he wants to "depopulate the Earth" or "implant electronic chips in people", are some of the false claims that are shared by millions on the internet against the famous tycoon and philanthropist.
The Microsoft co-founder became a favorite target of the plotters, whose visibility increased with the pandemic.
Gates "is a kind of voodoo doll in which plotters of all kinds plant their theories," Rory Smith, director of research for First Draft, a media network that acts against disinformation, explains to AFP .
Like a “scarecrow”, Whitney Philips, from the American University of Syracuse, abounds with respect to the billionaire who for 20 years has financed vaccination campaigns and the fight against epidemics with his Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
For example, a video accusing the American of wanting to "eliminate 15% of the world's population" through vaccines and implanting electronic chips in people, accumulated almost two million views on YouTube in less than two months.
These allegations "skyrocketed" between January and April, according to Smith. To the point that the disinformation in English against Bill Gates is now the most viral of all those related to COVID-19, reports the New York Times .
But they also exist in many other languages and in applications such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp and forums such as 4chan and Reddit.
The AFP dismantled more than a dozen viral respect publications in English, French, Spanish, Polishs and Czech.
Montage of videos, photos, decontextualizations ... anything goes to accuse Gates of giving a poisoned vaccine to Africans, of having paralyzed thousands of children, of possessing the WHO, of using the brain to create cryptocurrencies and even of being Satanist.
All the statements have one point in common: ensuring that the magnate wants to take advantage of the situation, as in a war, to subjugate the world or enrich himself by selling vaccines.
"It is troubling" because these theories can "reduce people's confidence in health organizations and lead to less vaccination," according to Smith.
"As he has criticized the Trump administration and is a technology magnate turned philanthropist and fervent promoter of vaccination," Gates is "the perfect scapegoat" for this crisis, summarizes researcher Kinga Polynczuk-Alenius, in a blog. from the University of Helsinki.
Sylvain Delouvée, a researcher in social psychology at the French University of Rennes, told AFP the Microsoft co-founder has been the star of the plots “for a long time” .
He has already been accused of being behind the Zika epidemic and being a reptilian creature.
The Gates Foundation leads numerous humanitarian projects in Africa, where theories against it proliferate. As it also finances numerous private companies and is the second donor to the WHO, this gives rise to more rumors.
For a long time, it has also been the target of anti-vaccine theorists, which are very active on social networks, especially during a pandemic.
Those who claim that he created COVID-19 claim that he owns the "patent" and that he "foresaw the epidemic" at a conference in 2015.
In fact, a research institute that had received funding from the Gates Foundation had filed a patent concerning an animal coronavirus, unrelated to SARS-CoV-2.
And as part of the scientific community, Gates had warned of the likelihood of a pandemic emerging in the years to come. This information is also shared by personalities such as the French actress Juliette Binoche and across political divisions.
Thus, Gates was the target of accusations by the ultra-conservative Laura Ingraham for wanting to "track" people with vaccines, and also by Robert Kennedy Jr, nephew of the former Democratic president, anti-Trump and anti-vaccines.
His wealth and leadership in the technology sector make him a "force suspect" on the far left, while the far-right repudiates his international influence, Delouvée explains.
However, dismantling false information is not equivalent to exonerating its victims from any guilt, says Delouvée, for whom it is legitimate, for example, to question the use of personal data by technology groups.
The Foundation is also criticized for lack of transparency in its management and funding, for example in the prestigious scientific journal The Lancet .