It’s curious to see how heroes and villains are variably crowned or demonized within the vaccine information wars. For those drawn to conspiracy theories, what is it that makes Bill Gates and Dr. Anthony Fauci chosen villains, but a multi-millionaire Kennedy heir, a hedge-fund manager, a self-proclaimed “natural living advocate” who profits from anti-vaccination messaging, and a defrocked physician who fabricated data in order to profit from the development of his own vaccine the Messiahs of the anti-vaccination movement?

If COVID– 19 had a poster boy, it would have been definitely Bill Gates. What do you get after trying to prepare people for an infectious disease pandemic? How about being accused of causing a pandemic when it actually occurs? Over the past decade, Bill Gates has been warning about the lack of preparation and systems in place to deal with infectious disease threats that could lead to a pandemic. This is after Gates has on multiple occasions pushed for more awareness about the possibility of a pandemic and more efforts to prevent this possibility, such as in his 2015 TED talk. Attempts to associate Bill Gates name with the coronavirus are being created at all costs.

On May 14, the YouTube channel “prisoners0fprogress” posted a video captioned “Italian Government call for arrest of Bill Gates.” The video is in Italian with English subtitles. The video gained nearly a million views and close to 2,000 comments over a weekend and has been shared on other social networks.

The arrest claim is false.

The Italian government has taken no such action against Gates. The video shows a fragment of a session in Italy’s Chamber of Deputies (parliament). According to the web source, which claims ownership of the YouTube channel and the video, the female speaker in it is Sarah Cunial, a conservative representative for Rome and a known anti-vaccination activist.

The Russian state-owned news outlet RT (Russia Today) used the YouTube video in its news report headlined: “Italian lawmaker demands Bill Gates be ARRESTED for ‘crimes against humanity’… But WHY?” In Russia anti-Bill Gates conspiracy stories have been popular, supported and promoted by public and government figures. In a recent example, Oscar winning director Nikita Mikhalkov dedicated his weekly show “Besogon” (Exorcist) to Gates. The show ran on state TV channel Rossiya-24 on May 1[1].

The prisoners0fprogress YouTube channel has only 3,500 subscribers, but the Cunial video has been viewed nearly 1 million times. There is evidence that the video was artificially boosted on Twitter. According to the open source intelligence tool First Tweet, the first account to post the video “Italian Government calls for Arrest of Bill Gates” was “Marissa Hardwick,” described in a @Fortepiecat profile as an American pro-life activist and supporter of U.S. President Donald Trump. The account has no personal information or personal photos.

The video was first posted in and shared mostly via public Facebook groups, not personal pages. All the posts occurred at roughly the same time, and all the first posters were anonymous users with no personal data in their profiles.

Bill Gates popped up again on 13 May; this time, in a talk show on state-controlled Channel One Russia (Pervy Kanal). Here, a participant introduced as Director of the Institute of Globalization Problems presented a recurring conspiracy theory about Bill Gates and questioned vaccinations in general – all as part of a discussion about how to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

“The guys on Pervy Kanal have learned nothing”, among those who expressed their disappointment with Mr Gates’ return was the team behind the programme ‘Fake News’ on Russia’s independent TV Rain. “The guys on Pervy Kanal have learned nothing from the story with Mikhalkov”, TV Rain wrote in the introduction to the latest episode of ‘Fake News,’ broadcast on 16 May. “And that is not funny at all,” TV Rain host Maria Borzunova commented in the programme: “Because for our money, anti-vaxxers spread their heresy propaganda to our entire country”.

With COVID-19 claiming some 300,000 lives worldwide and almost 90,000 in the U.S. and counting at the time of this writing, and the WHO speculating that COVID-19 might stay around for years to come, the stakes of vaccine hesitancy are now higher than ever. As most of the world eagerly awaits the development of a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 and hopes that eventual production will meet demands, winning the fight against COVID-19 won’t happen if a significant number of people refuse to be vaccinated. And yet that’s exactly what as many as a quarter of the U.S. population is already threatening and it’s becoming increasingly apparent that believers of COVID-19 conspiracy theories are joining forces with believers of anti-vaccine conspiracy theories within a rapidly growing movement intent on mounting a full-scale misinformation war against vaccines.

While institutions like the WHO and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have attempted to counter the medical “infodemic” with reliable and accurate information about vaccines and now COVID-19, recent evidence suggests they’re fighting a losing battle. New research published this week found that anti-vaccine Facebook pages outnumber pro-vaccine pages more than 2:1 with followers growing more rapidly and interacting to other groups with potential ideological overlap, such as groups focused on “wellness” or more generalized safety concerns. In order to understand why this informational battle is being lost, at least online, it must be first understood that the anti-vaccination movement is not just a rag-tag group of people worried about vaccines, but a highly organized and strategically coordinated political campaign. And while its members are indeed comprised of parents from both sides of the political divide who are worried for their children, there are larger, dare we say conspiratorial forces operating behind the scenes of the movement.



It’s curious to see how heroes and villains are variably crowned or demonized within the vaccine information wars. For those drawn to conspiracy theories, what is it that makes Bill Gates and Dr. Anthony Fauci chosen villains, but a multi-millionaire Kennedy heir, a hedge-fund manager, a self-proclaimed “natural living advocate” who profits from anti-vaccination messaging, the Messiahs of the anti-vaccination movement?

Psychology tells us that one answer, and perhaps the best answer, is “motivated reasoning.” We select our preferred political champions based on perceptions—whether accurate or not—of shared ideology and identity, routinely turning a blind eye to their blemishes, blights, and conflicts of interest in a way that our political opposites can’t fathom and find infuriating.

But another important answer goes back to the reality that the anti-vaccination movement isn’t merely the grass-roots organization of concerned parents that it presents itself to be, but is also a multi-millionaire-financed “astroturfing” campaign, similar to the ones that have been funding COVID-19 protests demanding to “open up the country” despite broad public support against doing so. And so, it may be that ironically, anti-vaccination conspiracy theorists are themselves victims of a vast conspiracy, one in which powerful millionaires are attempting to control their behavior, putting themselves at risk in the process.

Gates[2] was one person who actually listened to and understood the pandemic concerns being raised by real scientists. These conspiracy theories about the origin of the virus do nothing to control the pandemic. In fact, they detract from the efforts of scientists, health care professionals, and officials who are taking action against the virus. As Bruce Willis said in the movie Die Hard, “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. Quit being part of the problem and put the other guy back on!”


Meral Musli Tajroska – Psychologist, Consultant on violent extremism and radicalization, activist for gender equality



Source:, EuvsDisinfo, F2N2, Psychology Today.



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