Coronavirus spawns conspiracy theories

As the coronavirus continues to spread around the world, infecting millions and killing more than 153,000, conspiracy theories about its origin and treatment have also been multiplying.

Economic activity has ground to a halt as countries battle what President Trump has called “the invisible enemy,” and political leaders have themselves floated conspiracy theories about the virus, so rumors and disinformation — some spread by Russia and China — have taken root in social media.

Here are just a few of the bogus claims that have arisen during the pandemic.

Bill Gates is using the coronavirus to seize control of health care

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates gave a 2015 TED Talk in which he issued a stark warning that the world was “not ready for the next epidemic.”

“If we start now, we can be ready for the next epidemic,” Gates told his audience, making the case that world governments needed to prepare for pandemics with as much attention as they prepared for possible warfare.

As the New York Times reported Friday, that speech, in conjunction with remarks Gates has made recently that are critical of Trump’s decision to withhold U.S. funding from the World Health Organization, have led right-wing pundits, QAnon followers and anti-vaccination advocates to make the case that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is using the coronavirus pandemic, or that Gates manufactured the virus, for his own personal gain.

In reality, the Gates Foundation spends approximately $3 billion a year to boost public health in disadvantaged countries, including the distribution of infant vaccines to prevent diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough and hepatitis B in Africa. That hasn’t stopped pro-Trump social media luminaries Diamond & Silk from going after Gates.

“I have a problem receiving any vaccine from any entity, especially anybody like Bill Gates who pushed for population control,” the woman who goes by “Diamond” said on Wednesday.

Bill and Melinda Gates have donated $100 million of their fortune to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

5G cellphone towers cause COVID-19

Is the rollout of new 5G cellular service somehow responsible for the spread of COVID-19 around the world? That seems to be the belief among some of the people who have set fire to new 5G towers being erected in Europe. At least 60 of the towers have been torched in the U.K., where the conspiracy theory gained traction when a host on the ITV daytime show “This Morning” said he didn’t believe the “state-run narrative” that 5G towers were safe, Ars Technica reported.

The baseless linkage between 5G towers and the coronavirus has since spread across the English Channel. YouTube videos promoting the idea that 5G kills wildlife and damages human lungs have been proliferating since January, with some receiving more than 12 million views.

YouTube and Facebook have both recently banned videos that purport to show a connection between 5G towers and the coronavirus, saying none exists.

U.S. soldiers introduced the coronavirus to China

Conspiracy theories aren’t limited to fringe elements of society, however. Facing criticism from U.S. officials over its disclosure of the extent of COVID-19 infections, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian suggested on March 12 that the virus was brought into China by members of the U.S. military. “Be transparent!” Zhao wrote on Twitter. “Make public your data! US owe us an explanation!”

In response, the Trump administration lodged a complaint with the Chinese ambassador to the U.S.

“Spreading conspiracy theories is dangerous and ridiculous. We wanted to put the government on notice we won’t tolerate it for the good of the Chinese people and the world,” a State Department official told Reuters.

The coronavirus is a bioweapon developed for use against China

Back in late February, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro said that scientific analysis of the coronavirus showed it to have been “created for the biological war against China.”

“There are analyses in the world that show that the coronavirus can be a strain created for the biological war against China, there are already many elements that are seen in the global analysis and you have to raise your voice, ring the bell and alert, in case the coronavirus is a weapon of war that is being used against China and the peoples of the world,” he said.

Maduro, who the Trump administration has been trying to oust from power, did not provide any data to back up his theory. To date, Venezuela has reported just 204 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

George Soros owns the Chinese lab where the coronavirus originated

No conspiracy theory list is complete without an item on billionaire philanthropist George Soros. In March, as the virus began spreading across the United States, he was accused by some of his enemies of owning the WuXi AppTec pharmaceutical company that operates a lab in Wuhan, China, where many Trump supporters believe the virus originated. As Snopes reported, the company has “no discernible connection to Soros himself.”

A YouTube video produced by conspiracy theorists Democrepublix News, however, has hypothesized that Soros hatched the virus as a way to ensure Trump would not win reelection in 2020.

Soros has pledged $130 million to combat the coronavirus.


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