Billionaire Bill Gates told CNBC that misinformation has a tendency to spread faster than the truth on social media services.
“When you let people communicate, you have to deal with the fact that certain incorrect things that are very titillating can spread very rapidly compared to the truth. And we’ve always seen that with vaccines,” Gates said in an interview with CNBC’s Andrew Ross Sorkin that aired Tuesday on “Squawk Box.”
Facts travel slowly on social media compared with “negative” misinformation, which makes it difficult for companies like Facebook and Twitter to strike a balance, Gates said.
“To the degree to which these media companies can see what’s being said on their platform and take things that are absolutely wrong and get rid of those things or slow those things down, that’s very tough,” the Microsoft co-founder said in Monday’s interview.
Further complicating the policing of misinformation for Facebook is its 2019 decision to encrypt users’ direct messaging on WhatsApp, Gates said.
“Some of the messages on their platform, they don’t even see because of the encryption on WhatsApp,” Gates said. “In order to not have any responsibility, they’ve made that opaque. You know, so whatever the issues — anti-vaccine, child pornography — they have made sure they can’t intervene on those things.”
Gates also weighed in on Wednesday’s highly anticipated antitrust hearing featuring CEOs from Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google.
“You know, it certainly reminds me of when I went in front of the Congress,” he said. “I wished them well.”
Despite the hearings, Gates said, he believes the tech industry is naturally very competitive.
“Now, I’m not saying that the authorities have to be totally laissez-faire. But I do think people underestimate that natural competitive forces do come into the space,” he said. “I think of tech as even without massive regulation, that there will be a lot of innovation.”
Gates also touched on Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s controversial comments about Covid-19, telling the automaker entrepreneur to stay in his lane.
“Elon’s positioning is to maintain a high level of outrageous comments,” Gates said. “He’s not much involved in vaccines. He makes a great electric car. And his rockets work well. So he’s allowed to say these things. I hope that he doesn’t confuse areas he’s not involved in too much.”