Coronavirus conspiracy video spreads on Instagram among black celebrities

Instagram and Facebook have made a concentrated effort to rid their platforms of false information, but some conspiracy theories have proven hard to stop.
Image: Bill Gates
Bill Gates speaks about viruses in a 2015 Ted Talk.Courtesy TED

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By Brandy Zadrozny

A video pushing the unfounded conspiracy that Bill Gates is responsible for creating the coronavirus has gone viral on Instagram, propelled by some black celebrities including comedians Cedric the Entertainer and D.L. Hughley, and professional fighter Derrick Lewis.

This video has been viewed more than 2.2 million times, according to data from CrowdTangle, a social media analysis tool owned by Facebook, which also owns Instagram. The current iteration of the video originated from the account @thefallbackup, a self-described “influential mystic” with 69,500 followers. The video was reposted by 20 verified Instagram users, and more than 50 other users.

“Bill Gates either predicted or planned the coronavirus outbreak,” the text on the video reads, before playing a clip from a 2015 TED Talk in which Gates explains that a highly infectious virus could be more deadly than war.

Cedric the Entertainer posted the video to his Instagram account and wrote, “So they knew!!!”. The video has been viewed 367,000 times since he posted it Thursday. “Watch out for Big Pharma,” he added.

“Hmmmmm....” Hughley wrote next to his post along with an emoji of a face with a monocle.

“Ok this is scary. Looks like someone or some corporations knew this would happen. Coincidence?? I’ll let you guys decide,” wrote Gary Owen, a comedian who once hosted the BET comedy show Comic View.

Requests for comment sent to Owen, Lewis, Hughley and Cedric the Entertainer were not immediately returned.

An Instagram spokesperson said the videos had been sent to its fact-checking partners for review. Like other social media platforms, Instagram was initially flooded by coronavirus posts that pushed conspiracies and false cures. In recent weeks, it has made a concentrated effort to rid its platform of false information. The World Health Organization has called misinformation surrounding the virus an “infordemic.”

Gates has been the target of dozens of swirling conspiracies since news of the outbreak broke in January. The billionaire and philanthropist has been the subject of at least seven different conspiracies debunked by international fact-checkers, according to First Draft, an organization that tracks online misinformation. The most popular conspiracies have claimed that Gates engineered the virus as a form of population control, while others suggested that he is somehow profiting from a vaccine which has yet to be developed.

The black community has been specifically targeted by misinformation surrounding the coronavirus, said Shireen Mitchell, a researcher who studies online disinformation and is the founder of the group Stop Online Violence Against Women. Across social media, viral misinformation has spread that black people are immune from the coronavirus because of melanin in their skin (they are not).

Some in the black community may also be specifically susceptible to conspiracies surrounding the coronavirus because of the country’s history of nonconsensual medical experimentation on black people, Mitchell noted.

“That’s how disinformation works,” Mitchell said, citing black maternal mortality rates and the 40-year Tuskegee study, in which public health officials in Alabama refused to disclose or treat hundreds of black men with syphilis. “It takes a kernel of truth and layers of disinformation on top. So it seems like you're hearing the truth, when what you're doing is manipulating facts and then people don't know what facts are anymore.”