Bill Gates addresses bizarre conspiracy theories in new Australian interview


Billionaire Bill Gates has provided an ominous view of a future far worse than what the world has seen during the coronavirus pandemic.

Billionaire Microsoft founder and vaccinate philanthropist Bill Gates has provided an ominous view of the future far worse than what the world has seen during the coronavirus pandemic.

On the ABC’s 7 .30 with Leigh Sales on Tuesday night, the business magnate, described by Sales as one the “most powerful figures driving the push for action” on global warming, discussed conspiracy theories and climate change.

Mr Gates has been the centre of bizarre theories in recent months over his involvement with the development of COVID-19 vaccines, including claims he’s using them to microchip the world’s population by teaming up with top US infectious disease doctor Anthony Fauci.

The Microsoft founder previously said he was shocked at the level of “crazy” and “evil” conspiracies.

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In his latest Australian interview, Mr Gates said the spread of such theories around the vaccine are “tragic if they prevent people from wearing masks or be willing to take the vaccine as it becomes available”.

The Gates Foundation is the second-largest financial backer of the WHO after the United States. The organisation has also committed about $250 million (AU$322 million) for research and testing related to COVID-19.

He said social media networks face an overwhelming responsibility to police information on their sites and that the conspiracies spiralling online around the pandemic are dangerous.

He said “there are some things that are so extreme in terms of anti vaccine or holocaust denial that you can draw a line, but how you draw that line and who is put in charge of that … I’m not proposing solutions to that … I still haven’t seen a good solution.”

The philanthropist addressed misinformation online in October last year, telling The Wall Street Journal that people were drawn to the thrill of conspiracies, and facts were harder to spread.

“There’s certainly a human weakness to very titillating things, like, someone made this virus, or, there’s some conspiracy — those things can spread very quickly,” he said.

GATES’ OMINOUS PREDICTION

Spruiking his new book, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, Mr Gates, who warned five years ago that the world’s greatest threat was a pandemic, said humankind is facing its biggest challenge yet.

He said achieving zero emissions will be “the hardest thing humanity has ever done”, calling for a complete end across the globe.

“51 billion is the number of tonnes of CO2 equivalent that we’re putting into the atmosphere every year and if we want to stop the temperature from rising, we have to reduce that all the way down to zero,” said the software developer.

“And that’s going to be very hard because there’s a lot of sources of emissions.”

He said the physical economy – cement, steel, transportation, agriculture – will have to make changes by focusing on innovation and right policies.

He warned without doing so, the world faces an “unliveable” environment with “millions of migrants and a death rate five times as high as the peak of this pandemic every year”.

Only that way, “at a global basis can we achieve one of the hardest tasks that humanity’s ever been asked to performed”.

Mr Gates gave a Ted Talk in 2015 in which he warned that “we’re not ready for the next epidemic,” but offered hope by saying “we can build a really good response system” to prepare.

His suggestions included setting up a medical reserve corps to be paired with the military, and “germ games” similar to military war games that could be used to run simulations.

“But between 2015 and 2020, less than 5 per cent of what should have been done was done,” Mr Gates said.

Mr Gates has used his personal wealth to help in the global fight against various transmissible diseases for more than two decades, and has donated tens of billions of dollars to philanthropic causes.

— with Ronn Blitzer

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It’s time to raise the cost of spreading conspiracy theories


Conspiracy theories were a major driver behind the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol building. They have also been a growing part of the political right’s internal struggles since at least 2008. But why do people believe in crackpot conspiracy theories like QAnon, Pizzagate, or the narrative that the 2020 election was stolen? Why do they act on them, sometimes violently? 

If you think of irrationality as a consumer good, much like a car or a television, you can better understand why people sometimes say and do crazy things. Think of it like this: People buy more cars and televisions when they are cheap, and fewer when they are expensive. 

This logic applies to conspiracy theories. 

Here, price is not necessarily measured in money. The “price” of armchair theorizing is low, usually. It costs almost nothing to post crazy things online, aside from mild social stigma. But this cost is more than offset by other benefits for many. For a lot of fringe figures like anti-vaxxers, flat-earthers, and QAnon conspiracy theorists, espousing an extreme belief is not necessarily about the truth. It’s about asserting a unique, memorable identity and defending it against outside threats. 

Any sports fan or political partisan will be familiar with the emotional rush that conspiracy theorists feel when saying outlandish things. It feels good to cheer for your team and boo the other team. For some, these emotional benefits may even be worth the cost of losing friends or a job, so they keep at it.

But what happens when the price of irrationality suddenly spikes? Dominion Voting Systems, a company that sells electronic voting hardware and software like voting machines and tabulators, recently announced that it is suing “Kraken” lawyer Sidney Powell for defamation, seeking damages of $1.3 billion, because she repeatedly argued in public that Dominion software was created “at the direction of Hugo Chávez,” the Venezuelan dictator who died in 2013. She has also said that Dominion used a secret algorithm to rig the 2020 election. Her lawsuits regarding Dominion were dismissed because of lack of evidence.

Until now, Powell paid a low price for public conspiracy-mongering. In fact, it may have been financially profitable: Dominion argues in its lawsuit that Powell used her newfound fame to sell books and gain clients.

Dominion had previously threatened legal action against several media outlets that were peddling provably false claims, such as Fox News, Newsmax, and One America News. Once their price of being irrational went up, the outlets immediately started “consuming” less irrationality. Newsmax even aired a nearly two-minute “clarification” retracting nearly all of its stolen-election claims. It is worth watching.

Powell is currently weighing the likely monetary cost of a case she will likely lose against the nonmonetary costs of losing face, admitting error, and caving in to her opponents. But now that the price of her conspiracy theorizing has gone up, we can almost certainly expect her to consume less of it.

Public officials who played a role in inciting the coup attempt, such as President Trump, Sen. Josh Hawley, and Sen. Ted Cruz, are also seeing a price increase for their irrationality. All three are facing calls for their resignation, and their political prospects are suffering long-term damage. The price change they face will hopefully improve their behavior going forward. President Trump even grudgingly committed to a peaceful change of power for the first time. Even without further consequences, the three men’s diminished power should at least limit the amount of damage they can cause.

Many of the rioters will face legal consequences for their actions, raising the price of their irrationality. At the very least, the rioters and their sympathizers will likely tone down their violence and rhetoric in response to the price change. 

There are a lot of other factors involved in the ugly history we all witnessed on Jan. 6. Larger socioeconomic conditions, COVID-related cabin fever, personal grievances, and in some cases mental illness may also have been factors in the coup attempt. 

Thinking about conspiracy theories as a consumer good does not explain everything. But it can help us understand. Raising the “prices” conspiracy theorists pay for their fantasies, within the bounds of First Amendment protections and consistent with common decency, will help rein in the costs they impose on others. That can improve the national political conversation and help prevent more violence.

Ryan Young is a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

More opinion from Fortune:

  • Tech’s underdeveloped moral compass is threatening our democracy
  • Climate disasters are inevitable. We need to do more than just wait to clean up the damage
  • The Facebook antitrust suit is a major assault on entrepreneurs
  • There’s no better time than now to build a better pipeline for women in tech
  • Work has outgrown the office. What’s next?

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Victorian Liberals condemn pro-Trump conspiracy theories posted by colleague Bernie Finn


Senior Victorian Liberal MP David Davis says his party will be speaking to its Upper House MP Bernie Finn, after he published false pro-Trump conspiracy theories to his private Facebook page.

The posts were shared both before and after rioters stormed the US Capitol Building in an effort to prevent the democratic transition of power to President-elect Joe Biden.

In an early post before violence erupted in the United States, Mr Finn’s private account falsely claimed that “Deep State forces” were “improperly” removing President Donald Trump from office.

After the riots erupted, Mr Finn shared an article from far-right fringe publication The Washington Times, which claimed antifa activists had “infiltrated” the rioters who stormed the Capitol.

“This shouldn’t surprise anyone. This is far more Antifa than Trump,” Mr Finn’s post read.

That claim, which was repeated by some of Mr Trump’s Republican allies, has been described as “evidence-free” by NBC News and declared false by the New York Times’s fact-checking coverage.

Bernie Finn is a Liberal Upper House member for the Western Metropolitan region.(Supplied: Parliament of Victoria)
Bernie Finn writes that Donald Trump set an excellent example for international leaders.
Mr Finn wrote that Mr Trump had set a “wonderful example” of leadership during his presidency.(Supplied)

When asked about the comments on Friday, Mr Davis, who is the shadow minister for transport infrastructure, said he “fundamentally” disagreed with them.

“I don’t know why Bernie has made those comments,” he said.

“My view is that they are wrong, I think that the election result is very clear and I think the fact is that there’s been a series of terrible events in America in this recent period and I think the community is horrified by what they’ve seen.”

He said the Liberal Party would “certainly be talking to” Mr Finn about the comments, but did not outline what action, if any, might be taken.

Mr Finn, who is a member for the Western Metropolitan region, is also the shadow assistant minister for autism and small business.

“The truth of the matter is, I think, people across the community disagree with his view,” Mr Davis said.

Liberal MP and shadow tourism minister Cindy McLeish said on Thursday she had not yet seen the posts but did not support conspiracy theories about the “fair and square” US election result.

Mr Finn has been contacted for comment.

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Victorian Liberal frontbencher Bernie Finn posts Trump election conspiracy theories to Facebook


A conservative Victorian MP has published pro-Trump conspiracy theories on his private Facebook page, falsely claiming the United States’ President has been “improperly” removed from office.

On the morning of chaotic scenes at the US Capitol, the private Facebook page of Western Metropolitan region Liberal MP Bernie Finn also shared a quote from former United States president Ronald Reagan that calls on citizens to fight for freedom.

Mr Finn is a supporter of Mr Trump and his private page, from which the two recent posts were published, often shares conspiracy theories supporting him.

As riots unfolded across the Capitol campus, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube pulled down social media posts by Mr Trump, in which he repeated his baseless claims of election fraud.

On Wednesday, before the planned congressional confirmation of President-elect Joe Biden, Mr Finn wrote on his private Facebook page that Donald Trump would make history within the next 12 hours for one of two reasons.

He would either “fight off a concerted effort by globalists, big corporations, big media, the Washington Establishment and the mad Left to improperly remove him from the Oval Office”, or he would “succumb to … Deep State forces — but not before exposing the massive corruption undermining the American political system”.

Mr Finn wrote that Mr Trump had set a “wonderful example” of leadership during his presidency.(Supplied)

The Braybrook-based MP, who holds shadow ministerial positions and is the Liberal whip in the Victorian Upper House, ended the post by saying Americans would be grateful to the President.

“He set a wonderful example to every other national leader by putting America first,” Mr Finn said.

On Thursday morning, while Trump supporters were storming the congressional building in Washington, the Capitol, Mr Finn took to his private Facebook page again urging his followers to read a quote of former Republican president Ronald Reagan.

“The people of the United States would be well advised to remember these words of a very wise man and great President,” he wrote above a picture of Reagan and an excerpt from a speech delivered at a party convention in 1964.

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction,” the quoted extract begins.

Bernie Finn posts an image of Ronald Reagan with a quote about fighting for freedom to his Facebook page.
Mr Finn shared the words from Ronald Reagan on Thursday morning, as Mr Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol.(Supplied)

“We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”

The ABC is not suggesting Mr Finn supported the violence or rioting at the Capitol.

Mr Finn has been contacted for comment.

Colleagues slam Mr Finn’s ‘fruitcake’ commentary

Senior Liberal sources suggested Mr Finn was irritating swathes of his own party with his social media posts and questioned whether Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien could continue to support him.

“Instead of pushing and pursuing wild conspiracy theories, Bernie should go back into his office and try and help us in the western suburbs,” one senior Liberal source said.

Another Liberal colleague described him as “a fruitcake”.

When asked about his comments at an Opposition press conference, Shadow Minister for Tourism Cindy McLeish said she had not seen the posts but made clear she did not support baseless conspiracy theories about the “fair and square” US election result.

“I haven’t seen Bernie’s post today, the situation that we have in the USA is just … there’s no words for it, it’s an appalling situation,” she said.

“I think it’s very embarrassing for America … Biden needs to just, you know, take hold of the White House.”

Ms McLeish said she wanted to see Mr Finn’s posts for herself and the party would be able to speak to him about the matter “at the appropriate time”.

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COVID vaccines: Hesitancy, conspiracy theories and misinformation


It was the week vaccines started to get rolled out across the European Union. But some have started stronger than others.

Each EU country was given 9750 vaccines on December 26th, with more in the following days.

Austria has managed to vaccinate 6,000 people in the first week, with France lagging behind with only a few hundred people.

Some countries have stumbled due to logistics, with the Netherlands waiting until January 8th to begin administering their vaccines.

But beyond the rollout, there are many hurdles ahead, not the least vaccine hesitancy. France and Spain have some of the highest recorded vaccine hesitancy rates in the world, with just 40% of the French population questioned saying that they would take a vaccine should it be offered to them in the latest Ipsos poll.

In this special edition of #TheCube, we put questions to immunologists and epidemiologists. We dive into the difference between legitimate vaccine hesitancy and the anti-vaccine movement.

Euronews’ Hebe Campbell speaks with the Director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, Professor Andrew Pollard, about his concerns with regards to vaccine misinformation.

We also break down the science behind the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines and look at how scientists have been using social media to get their messages out.

Click on the player above as Seana Davis in The Cube details more.



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Biggest conspiracy theories of 2020 (and why they won’t die)


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Biden’s Energy Sec Pick Spent Years Pushing Russian Collusion Theories



President-elect Joe Biden’s choice to helm the Department of Energy, former Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D-MI), has a history of publicly promoting theories about Russian collusion in the 2016 election.

Granholm, who if confirmed by the United States Senate as energy secretary, would be in charge of America’s nuclear arsenal, began pushing the notion that President Donald Trump was enamored of Russia in mid-2015, according to the former governor’s social media posts.

The former governor, in particular, was an early proponent of the idea that Trump’s reluctance to release his tax returns during the 2016 contest might have been tied to business dealings in Russia. At the time, Granholm even speculated that Trump might be a “tool” of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

After Trump bested former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Granholm pivoted to suggesting that the Republicans had only carried the White House because of help from Russia.

During one particular appearance on CNN in August of 2018, the former governor argued that “Russian interference” in the 2016 race through social media platforms like Facebook had cost Clinton the election. At the time, Granholm also suggested that if Democrats, like then-Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), failed to do well in the upcoming 2018 congressional elections, it was likely because Russia played a role.

When pushed by a CNN political contributor that it was unfair to blame Russia for the “Democrats’ poor performance” in elections, both past and present, Granholm disagreed. “I can blame the Russians for interfering in this election, and every single intelligence agency says they did interfere” in 2016, the former governor said in response.

Even after claims of Russian collusion were found to be unproven by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Granholm did not let go of the notion. In December 2019, the former governor intimated that Trump had “love for Putin” when sharing a photo of the president meeting in the Oval Office with the Russian ambassador to the U.S.

Granholm repeated the suggestion that Trump was somehow beholden to Russia as recently as September of this year.

Trump is not the only Republican that Granholm has accused of doing Russia’s bidding. On a number of occasions, the former governor has lambasted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) as “Moscow Mitch.” The nickname, which was first coined by MSNBC host Joe Scarborough after the release of the Mueller report, has been used by congressional Democrats to attack the Senate leader for refusing to support their proposal on election security.

McConnell, who is likely to be pivotal to Granholm’s chances for confirmation provided Republicans remain in control of the Senate pending two runoff elections in Georgia, has expressed displeasure at the nickname. In September 2019, the GOP leader told Hugh Hewitt, the conservative-leaning radio host, that the nickname amounted to nothing more than an “over the top effort” to “smear” him for refusing to support legislation favoring mainly Democrats.

It is unclear if Granholm’s history of pushing Russian collusion theories on social media will have any impact on her nomination. The president-elect’s transition team did not respond to comments for this story.

Granholm in recent weeks, though, seems to have become aware that her old social media posts could be controversial. Data compiled by Social Blade, a digital media analytics company, indicates that the former governor has deleted at least 67 old posts from Twitter since the start of December.





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Donald Trump’s election campaign drops lawyer Sidney Powell after peddling conspiracy theories



Donald Trump’s campaign announced Sunday it was no longer working with a member of the president’s legal team who was widely mocked for alleging baseless conspiracy theories related to the 3 November election.

“Sidney Powell is practicing law on her own. She is not a member of the Trump legal team,” the president’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani said in a statement.

“She is also not a lawyer for the president in his personal capacity.”

Mr Trump had tweeted on 14 November that Powell would be a member of his legal team, alongside Mr Giuliani and campaign legal adviser Jenna Ellis.

The team has sought to overturn election results in several states, including key battlegrounds Pennsylvania and Michigan, all of which voted for Democratic President-elect Joe Biden.

Mr Giuliani’s announcement about Ms Powell comes just days after an extraordinary 90-minute press conference at the Republican National Committee in Washington, during which legal team members argued – without evidence – that a broad “national conspiracy” to deny Mr Trump re-election was underway.

Ms Powell notably claimed that Mr Trump had beaten Mr Biden in a landslide, despite the fact that Mr Biden won 306 Electoral College votes – 36 more than needed to win the White House – to Mr Trump’s 232.

Mr Biden is set to win the popular vote by more than six million votes.

Ms Powell also claimed during the press conference that Cuba, Venezuela and other “communist” nations may have been linked to a hacking of the election that took millions of votes from Mr Trump.

Prior to working with Mr Trump’s legal team, Ms Powell had defended the president’s former aide Michael Flynn, who is accused of lying about his Russia contacts during the 2016 presidential election.

Ms Powell’s dismissal comes the day after a Pennsylvania judge threw out Mr Trump’s claims in the state in a scathing judgment.

Judge Matthew Brann wrote that the president’s team had presented “strained legal arguments without merit and speculative accusations” in their complaints about mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania.



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A coronavirus survivor and leading Australian youth advocate took on cyber bullies peddling conspiracy theories and won.


“Gotta try and find out where this little squirt lives,” said one post seen by The Age.

“If anyone sees him kick him in the head,” read another.

As the trolling escalated into daily hate-filled posts and videos, he was accused of being a political puppet and of being paid to lie about his illness as a staged “crisis actor” set up to instil fear in Victorians.

“These conspiracy theorists, they were creating online accounts about me and writing ‘he’s a traitor and a paid actor’; that’s how it started out,” he said.

“Then it all went viral.

“They even said they were going to launch a freedom of information request into my hospital records.”

Mr Hassan’s colleague, Youth Activating Youth chief executive Ali Ahmed, was also recovering from COVID-19 and also received threats and abuse.

As part of their advocacy work, Mr Ahmed and Mr Hassan had met and been pictured with politicians including Premier Daniel Andrews. Now these pictures were used to further fuel the conspiracy theorists’ claims that the pair was lying.

“How much did dictator Dan pay you to say you had the fake coronavirus? Better get yourself acting classes,” one woman messaged to Mr Hassan.

Others posted online: “He needs to be held accountable” and “#AHMEDGATE”.

Then, as Victoria’s second coronavirus wave gained momentum, the two young men’s personal contact details were posted online.

Youth leaders Ahmed Hassan and Ali Ahmed.Credit:Luis Enrique

“I’ve got pretty thick skin but it was having a serious mental toll on Ahmed (Mr Hassan); he wasn’t sleeping, he’d come in and say ‘there was another video out overnight, I haven’t slept’,” Mr Ahmed said.

“If it wasn’t for COVID maybe we would have booked him a ticket out of here, but we were in lockdown, you couldn’t leave.”

It led Mr Hassan to consider taking indefinite leave from his job in a desperate attempt to escape the torment as the mental stress reached tipping point.

Mr Ahmed and Mr Hassan had fallen sick in mid-June. They both said they felt in good health when they went to play a social game of soccer with friends in Melbourne’s north but within hours, they were hit with waves of exhaustion.

Then came the shakes and what both describe as unbearable pain.

While Mr Ahmed was able to recover at home with the support of his family, Mr Hassan, who has type-1 diabetes, spend two stints in the Royal Melbourne Hospital’s isolation ward.

But both men say that the mental health impacts and the anxiety that the online trolling caused have been more excruciating than the illness.

“The young people we work with and who observe our social [media], they were being exposed to this stuff. And our staff, they were answering all these hate calls,” Mr Ahmed said.

“The problem for us then became how do we protect the people around us?”

Youth Activating Youth executive Ahmed Hassan, left, and operations manager Richard Deng, speaking on the South Sudanese community in December 2017.

Youth Activating Youth executive Ahmed Hassan, left, and operations manager Richard Deng, speaking on the South Sudanese community in December 2017.Credit:Joe Armao.

The pair reached out to police and then lawyers who began to track down those behind the defamatory and false information.

Inside the hate-spewing online conspiracy groups, behind the covers of fake profiles, they found doctors and lawyers and even members of their own multicultural communities.

“I think the most frightening part though was that the young generations were believing what they were seeing,” Mr Hassan said. “People close to me were calling up and saying ‘hey, is this true’? “

In the end, the pair decided to launch legal action to try to stop the spread of misinformation.

On the eve of Mr Hassan’s next television appearance, on the ABC’s Q&A program on August 24, legal letters were issued to the two most active trolls.

Ahmed Hassan speaks in July in response to recent negative comments in the media regarding the Sudanese Community

Ahmed Hassan speaks in July in response to recent negative comments in the media regarding the Sudanese Community Credit:Darrian Traynor

And, late last month, the youth leaders finally got the justice they’d worked so hard to achieve.

Two Melbourne-based anti-lockdown campaigners agreed to issue an apology video online retracting their claims against Mr Hassan.

“We wanted to pave the way for future generations. Especially when it comes to online cyberbullying which has fast become the alternative to physical bullying,” he said.

As Mr Hassan flicked through the barrage of messages on his phone in a coffee shop in the city’s north, the impact the online abuse has taken on him is clear.

His face is slimmer and while the brightness has returned to his eyes, the exhaustion clearly lingers.

“The mental impact of it, it took me to the brink.”

If you or anyone you know needs support call Lifeline on 131 114, or Beyond Blue’s coronavirus mental wellbeing support service on 1800 512 348.

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