With coronavirus cases continuing to rise across the U.S., Bill Gates has partly laid the blame on social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter, saying they can do better at curbing the spread of misinformation about the virus.
“Can the social media companies be more helpful on these issues?” Gates said during an interview with Fast Company. “What creativity do we have? Sadly, the digital tools probably have been a net contributor to spreading what I consider crazy ideas.”
In response, a Facebook spokesperson highlighted several initiatives the Mark Zuckerberg-led company has taken since the start of the pandemic.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg alonside Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.
(Fox News/Getty Images)
“Since January, we’ve worked closely with health organizations, like the CDC, to connect people to accurate information about COVID-19 and we will continue to do more,” the spokesperson said in an email to Fox News.
“We’ve directed over 2 billion people to resources from health authorities and just today launched an alert at the top of Facebook and Instagram reminding everyone to wear face coverings to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. We’re also aggressively going after misinformation and have applied warning labels to millions of pieces of misinformation and have removed content that could lead to imminent harm.”
A spokesperson from Twitter declined to comment.
Gates touched on a number of other subjects at the virtual conference, including people not wearing masks, which he described as “hard to understand.”
“It’s not expensive, and yet some people feel it’s a sign of freedom or something, despite risk of infecting other people,” the 64-year-old Gates said.
Despite Gates’ criticism, Facebook, in particular, has taken several steps in an effort to aid researchers trying to fight the pandemic.
On Tuesday, the company said in a blog post that Facebook and Instagram users would see an alert to remind them to wear face coverings.
In March, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter deleted social media posts from Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro after the platforms deemed they were spreading misinformation regarding COVID-19.
A person familiar with Twitter’s thinking told Fox News the company has also worked to amplify accounts from government and public health officials, while also removing some COVID-19 content “that could potentially cause harm.”
Separately in March, Facebook announced tips on how to spot fake news to its more than 2 billion users.
In April, the company said it would warn users if they have “liked, reacted or commented” on content that has been deemed “harmful” and removed by the tech giant and send them to information provided by the World Health Organization.
Also in April, Facebook and Fox News teamed up for a coronavirus town hall with White House coronavirus task force members Dr. Deborah Birx and Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams that let users ask questions about the pandemic.
Facebook also said in April that it would start to ask some of its U.S.-based users about their health in an effort to give researchers more information about self-reported COVID-19 patients.
Gates, who is worth some $109 billion, according to Forbes, has focused nearly all of his energy on public health responses since he announced in March he was stepping down from the board of directors of Microsoft and Berkshire Hathaway to focus on philanthropy.
In late April, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced it would give an additional $150 million to fight COVID-19, bringing its total contribution to $250 million. Some of the funds will go toward the World Health Organization, a frequent target of Trump for its response during the coronavirus pandemic.
In May, Melinda Gates said the U.S. is “lacking leadership at the federal level,” which she said is “costing people their lives.”
As of Thursday morning, more than 10.7 million coronavirus cases have been diagnosed worldwide, more than 2.68 million of which are in the U.S.
This story has been updated to include responses from Facebook and Twitter.