Microsoft co-founder and billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates is one of the leading public figures in the fight against coronavirus pandemic, but also a target of several conspiracy theories.
Conspiracy theories and misinformation linking him to the coronavirus' origins were mentioned 1.2 million times on television and social media between February and April this year, according to an analysis by the New York Times and media analytics company, Zignal Labs. Several theories linking the Microsoft co-founder to coronavirus have flooded social media ever since the pandemic broke.
So how did Bill Gates become the voodoo doll of COVID conspiracies?
The genesis of these distorted tidings dates back to 2015 when an unassuming-looking Gates issued a dire warning from the stage of TED conference in Vancouver saying that "if anything kills over 10 million people over the next few decades, it is likely to be a highly infectious virus rather than war."
The fact that he has been quite vocal about the bigger danger a global pandemic could pose for many years ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic has been lapped up by conspiracy theorists with some of them alleging it as proof that Gates appeared to have known beforehand about coronavirus. While some are of the view that he is leading a class of global elites, others believe Gates is at the forefront of efforts to depopulate the world. Several others accuse him of making vaccines a requisite or even trying to implant microchips into people.
The conspiracy theories are a dime a dozen, but Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari cautions against such framed defences which he believes are bigger threat than the COVID-19 pandemic. In a podcast conversation with Bill Gates, Harari talks about humanity's relationship with truth, fiction, and conspiracy theories while making sense of the outrageous claims against Gates.
Harari differentiates between lie and fiction as he deep dives into the issue of conspiracy theories. Harari says a lie is "when you are perfectly aware that something is not true and you say it in order to deceive others, whereas, fiction is very often something that you really believe in and tell others, not in order to deceive them, but to make them believe."
He adds that it can be anything small or big like religion, an economic theory, or a racial theory.
Giving an example of how Nazi ideology was essentially a conspiracy theory, Harari explains that most Nazis believed in the Nazi racial theory the same way as many people who believed in a particular religion.
Speaking about the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in the US, Harari notes that "if people in the country (US) don't believe that the deaths are taking place, wearing masks is just a political statement, and that mask compliance is lower is all because of these misunderstandings and lies." When asked if the leadership of the country is intentionally lying about the coronavirus cases and deaths being low, Harari says even if the government wants to lie to convince people, it needs to believe in the lie itself first. He adds that when people start lying, they start to believe their own lies somewhere along the way.
Harari says in order to stop lies and misinformation surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, people should believe in science. Although things are not ideal, "we are still in a better situation than in almost any previous time in history," he says.
Harari says since learning about the virus is complicated, humans prefer things that are easy to understand so they believe in conspiracy theories. A conspiracy theory, like a couple of billionaires who are doing all this to control the world, feels smart "like I understand what's happening in the world," Harari explicates.
Harari says that "we should not dismiss conspiracy theories too easily, as they often represent deep and sometimes justified fears that humans have."
One such theory that the COVID-19 was created with the ideas to implant people with computer chips to control them is "ridiculous in many different ways," the historian says, adding that despite this it "represents a realistic fear of surveillance technology" which is one of the "unintentional" consequences of the pandemic.
Pondering over how to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, the historian says that if people are more compassionate and generous towards each other and try to understand what this virus is with the help of science, it would become much easier, not only to deal with the present crisis, but with all other future catastrophes as well. Mankind's biggest enemy, Harari points out, is not the virus, but its "inner demons of hatred, greed, and ignorance."