Speaking at the Wall Street Journal CEO Summit on Wednesday, Gates asked Elon Musk: “How do you feel about something [on Twitter] saying ‘vaccines kill people’ or ‘Bill Gates is tracking people'”.
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Bill Gates has warned that Elon Musk could make Twitter “worse” after Tesla’s CEO pledged to buy the social media firm for $44 billion.
Speaking at the Wall Street Journal CEO Summit on Wednesday, Gates said it’s unclear how Musk will change Twitter if he takes ownership and also raised concerns about the spread of misinformation on social media platforms.
The Microsoft co-founder admitted that Musk’s track record at other companies is impressive, calling his time at the helm of Tesla and SpaceX “mind-boggling.” Gates said that he believed Musk had done a good job of putting together a great team of engineers at those companies.
“I doubt that will happen this time, but we have to keep an open mind and never underestimate Elon,” he said.
The tech billionaire’s comments come after Musk accused him of shorting Tesla shares last month. Musk also tweeted a crude joke about Gates that CNBC chose not to run. Gates said the insults don’t bother him.
Gates, who has been replaced by Musk as the world’s richest person in recent years, wondered what Musk’s goal is with Twitter and whether his campaign to promote free speech is sensible.
“How do you feel about something [on Twitter] saying ‘Vaccines kill people’ or ‘Is Bill Gates tracking people?'” Gates asked.
“What are their goals for what it ends up being? Does that match up with this idea of less extreme falsehoods spreading so quickly [and] weird conspiracy theories? Do you share that goal or not?” Gates said.
A representative for Musk did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.
Over the past few weeks, Musk has hinted at various ways he could improve Twitter beyond promoting free speech. Late on Tuesday, for example, he suggested that he could start charging companies a “light” fee to use the platform.
Misinformation about vaccines has spread like wildfire on social media during the Covid-19 pandemic, with some wrongly claiming that Gates was somehow using vaccines to implant 5G chips in people so he could track their location. .
“That’s so unexpected and almost so weird,” Gates said. “Now that I’m back in the physical world… people are coming and screaming and protesting.”
He said it is “dangerous” when people “throw” the key tool that is being used to save people’s lives and believes that the owners of social media platforms have a role to play when it comes to ensuring that the truth be shared effectively.
Musk’s plan to buy Twitter has politicians around the world concerned.
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“When you don’t have trusted leaders talking about vaccines, it’s pretty hard for the platform to work against that,” he admitted. “So I think we have a leadership problem and we have a platform problem.”
“The way you make those platforms spread the truth and not crazy stuff, it takes some real invention there,” Gates said.
“It’s a big problem in terms of the legitimacy of elections or medical innovations… any kind of collective behavior,” he added.
The fact that information about drug efficacy can be moved quickly and cheaply should be a boon to humanity, Gates said, before calling the hydroxychloroquine saga “insane.”
“I can’t explain that,” he said. “I don’t think digital is responsible for this obsession with drugs that don’t work.”
Gates said he plans to establish a 3,000-person social media unit to help spread accurate vaccine information in the future. He stressed that “good messages” must be conveyed by trusted people in the community, such as political and ethnic leaders.