Bill Gates has reportedly become a prime target for conspiracy theories and misinformation related to the . Posts on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter about the Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist falsely claim he created , is looking to profit from a vaccine or is behind a "plot to use the illness to cull or surveil the global population," according to a report Friday from The New York Times.
Misinformation that links Gates to the coronavirus includes more than 16,000 posts on Facebook this year that were liked and commented on nearly 900,000 times, according to the Times, as well as popular YouTube videos posted in March and April that have been viewed nearly 5 million times. Misinformation related to Gates is the "most widespread of all coronavirus falsehoods" tracked by media analysis firm Zignal Labs, according to the Times.
Gates has been outspoken about the coronavirus pandemic,in the US and criticizing President Donald Trump's decision to .
"Halting funding for the World Health Organization during a world health crisis is as dangerous as it sounds," Gates tweeted on Wednesday. "Their work is slowing the spread of COVID-19 and if that work is stopped no other organization can replace them. The world needs @WHO now more than ever."
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has committed $250 million to help with the global response to the virus. In an emailed statement Friday, Gates Foundation CEO Mark Suzman said conspiracy theories being spread online could damage public health.
"At a time like this, when the world is facing an unprecedented health and economic crisis, it's distressing that there are people spreading misinformation when we should all be looking for ways to collaborate and save lives," said Suzman. "Right now, one of the best things we can do to stop the spread of COVID-19 is spread the facts."
COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, has rapidly spread across the globe. The World Health Organization on March 11 declared the outbreak a pandemic. There are now over 2.1 million confirmed cases globally, with more than 671,000 in the US as of Friday.