Sep 15, 2020 - Technology

Melinda Gates sees social media "reckoning" in the post-COVID world

Illustration of Melinda Gates reaching towards a globe on a pedestal that reads "sustainable development goals"

Illustration: "Axios on HBO"

"It may be time for a reckoning" with social media's role in spreading disinformation, Melinda Gates told "Axios on HBO" Monday — but she doesn't see that happening until after the pandemic ends.

Between the lines: Bill and Melinda Gates are clearly big believers in technology. But they've also seen firsthand the impact of disinformation, as they've become targets of conspiracy theories amplified and spread via social media.

What they're saying: "It's disappointing, quite honestly, when you see that level of vitriol on disinformation that you know isn't true," Gates said. "But on the other hand, I can also kind of understand it, right? I mean, people are home, they're anxious, they're losing their job. Their kid isn't in school."

Gates also said society may need to start holding social media companies to account for their role in helping such disinformation spread.

  • "I think it's up to society to start to figure out, 'OK, what do we do about that?' How do we think about disinformation in a society or how do we think about political ads and where they should be placed and what they do or don't get to say?" Gates said.
  • "So it might be time for some reckoning on that after this pandemic is over. I don't think in the middle of a pandemic, though, that that's what we're gonna get done."

The big picture: The pandemic is where Melinda Gates is focusing most of her attention.

Her foundation is out with a new report showing COVID-19 has led to a global increase in the number of people in poverty and a decrease in those being vaccinated for other diseases. In all, the report finds the world losing ground in all but one of 15 global sustainability goals established by the United Nations.

  • Some 37 million people's income fell below $1.90 per day, considered the global poverty line. "It's the difference between being able to put food on your table or not put food on your table and go hungry," Gates said, adding that, at $3 per day of income, families in much of the world can start saving.
  • Globally, vaccination rates plummeted as COVID-19 fears kept parents from taking their kids to the doctor. "What we know," Gates said, "is that 25 years of increased vaccinations that have saved children's lives all over the world was set back in 25 weeks."
  • Banking was the only category to see gains over the prior year, as governments around the world looked to get stimulus funding quickly into the hands of their populations. Gates said she expects that to prove lasting and meaningful, reducing graft and giving women more money to feed their families.

Meanwhile: Gates also blasted the Trump administration for neutering the CDC, politicizing basic health knowledge and pulling funding from the World Health Organization amid a global pandemic.

  • "We've had terrible leadership on this issue quite frankly," she said, reiterating that the U.S. hasn't improved on the "D-" grade she gave the administration's COVID-19 response back in May.
  • Nonetheless, Melinda Gates said she and Bill would not endorse a candidate in the presidential election. "We're always tempted," Gates said with a laugh. "But it's important for us as private citizens to, you know, keep our votes to ourselves and for our institution to be nonpartisan."

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