In the real world, Bill Gates is the scion of a prominent Seattle family who, as a very young man, led the computer revolution by founding Microsoft, thereby becoming the richest person on Earth, and who, in his later life, has chosen to be one of the planet’s leading philanthropists by spending his fortune trying to eradicate menacing diseases across the globe. In the darker universe of the internet, though, Bill Gates is something entirely different: the venal creator of a pandemic.

Utterly absurd and totally fake conspiracy theories about Gates are being spewed from right-wing web sites and fringe media, such as QAnon and Infowars, and are being given credence by conservative provocateurs, such as President Donald Trump’s felonious henchman, Roger Stone, and FOX News rabble rouser Laura Ingraham. There are several variations on the theme, but the gist is that Gates cooked up the virus and loosed it on the world so that he could make a gazillion dollars marketing a vaccine and set up an oppressive surveillance system to track everyone on the planet.

It is totally nuts. Can anyone believe that a guy with so much money that he has to work hard to give it away would want to pad his wealth by secretly committing global genocide? It defies the most basic rational thought. And, yet, millions of people are flocking to Internet sites that sell this lunacy and to right-wing media sources that say it just might – might – be true.

Humans have believed myths and fairy tales since the dawn of civilization. For most of that time, it may have been excusable since serious science was unobtainable and access to broader knowledge was a privilege available only to an elite few. We do not have that excuse anymore. We have scientists who can tell us where viruses come from. We have a free press to investigate facts. And we have the internet, which makes knowledge open to anyone with access to a computer. Unfortunately, millions of people continue to think like primitives and use that technology to create and chase after scary stories and heinous legends instead of the truth.

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