BILL Gates' divorce from his wife Melinda has sent anti-vaxxers, QAnon believers and a host of other conspiracy theorists into overdrive.
Microsoft boss Gates and his wife have become a lightning rod for nonsense online propaganda which insidiously spreads across social media.
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The 65-year-old multibillionaire announced yesterday he is separating from his partner Melinda, 56, after 27 years of marriage.
His post on Twitter sparked a wave of new conspiracy theories – with his post being quote tweeted thousands of times by online crackpots.
And this is despite Gates even going as far as to disabling comments on his initial message, with it being shared more than 80,000 times.
Twitter was awash with posts pushing nonsense such as claims Gates is due to be arrested on charges of "crimes against humanity" and bizarre allegations that Melinda had actually be replaced years ago by an actor.
Others attempted to claim the divorce is a "distraction" from something evil going on behind the scenes, and others baselessly claimed that Gates divorce is a sham to help him "hide assets".
Gates is the fourth richest man in the world – with a fortune of an estimated $123billion, behind only Amazon boss Jeff Bezos, Tesla and SpaceX pioneer Elon Musk, and Louis Vuitton executive Bernard Arnault.
He has long been the subject of various conspiracy theories, and had positioned himself in the last half decade away from Microsoft.
The tech boss instead forged ahead focusing on public health and his charitable efforts.
He even warned of the threat of a pandemic in 2015 at the TED conference, and spoke almost prophetically about the danger of a new virus in 2019 Netflix show Explained.
He is this kind of voodoo doll that all these communities are pricking with their own conspiracies
However, his efforts have placed him in the firing line of conspiracy theorists who see him as the face of an imagined cabal of world elites who are secretly pulling the strings behind the scenes.
His warnings about the threat of a deadly new virus are construed as somehow him knowing Covid was coming and are seen baselessly as him positioning himself to cash in.
Longstanding conspiracies of secret societies such as the Illuminati, dystopian fantasies such as the New World Order, and the latest wave of Q fueled belief in the so-called Deep State and a Satanic cabal of child eating paedophiles have all been tied to Gates.
Rory Smith, from fact-checkers First Draft News, told the BBC: "There are myriad conspiracies surrounding Bill Gates.
"He is this kind of voodoo doll that all these communities are pricking with their own conspiracies.
"And it is unsurprising he has become the voodoo doll – because he has always been the face of public health."
Conspiracy theories about Bill Gates were in the early stages of the Covid pandemic in 2020 mentioned more than 1.2million times.
The baseless ideas found new audiences on Facebook, Twitter and TikTok as the world came to terms with the reality of a global pandemic.
Baseless claims began to gain steam, and as the vaccine rollout started long standing anti-vaxx beliefs about Gates started to worm their way out of fringe online spaces and almost into the mainstream.
His efforts in investing in public health measures had long fuelled anti-vaxxers beliefs about him, even before Covid.
Various claims about his companies want to develop vaccines to either "microchip" people or potentially even to sterilize them to trigger a global "depopulation" effort found their ways into a new wave of unsuspecting users timelines.
The Gates Foundation provided funds to the COVAX plan, which is looking to secure two billion vaccine doses for lower income countries by the end of 2021.
It has also received funding from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI).
Prof Joseph Uscinski, a political scientist at the University of Miami and author of books on conspiracy theories, said: "Conspiracy theories are about accusing powerful people of doing terrible things.
"The theories are basically the same, just the names change.
"Before Bill Gates, it was George Soros and the Koch brothers and the Rothchilds and the Rockefellers."
He added Gates is likely a target simply because he is rich and famous, giving the conspiracy theorists a "big villain".
Gates and his wife even released a statement on the raft of conspiracy theories last year, and he has answered questioned about it in TV interviews regarding Covid.
"It is troubling that there is so much craziness. When we develop the vaccine we will want 80 percent of the population to take it and if they have heard it is a plot and we don't have people willing to take the vaccine that will let the disease continue to kill people," Gates said.
"I'm kind of surprised some of it is focused on me. We are just giving money away, we write the cheque.. and yes we do think about let's protect children against disease but it is nothing to do with chips and that type of stuff. You almost have to laugh sometimes."
In a statement, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation said: "At a time like this, when the the world is facing an unprecedented health and economic crisis, it's distressing that there are people spreading misinformation when we we should all be looking for ways to collaborate and save lives.
"Right now, one the best things we can do to stop the spread of Covid-19 is spread the facts."
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