In 2015, an unassuming-looking Bill Gates came on stage at the TED conference in Vancouver to issue a dire warning.
“If anything kills over 10 million people over the next few decades, it is likely to be a highly infectious virus rather than war,” he told the audience.
His prescient words picked up some coverage at the time, including from the BBC – but largely went unheeded.
But now, the video of this talk has now been viewed more than 64 million times – with many people more interested in the reasons behind that speech than the talk itself.
Some accuse of him of leading a class of global elites. Others believe he is leading efforts to depopulate the world.
Still more accuse him of making vaccines mandatory, or even attempting to implant microchips into people.
Theories falsely linking Bill Gates to the coronavirus were mentioned 1.2 million times on television or social media between February and April, according to a study by The New York Times and Zignal Labs.
Much of the content is posted to public Facebook groups, from where it is shared millions of times.
First Draft News has also found that Chinese viral video site TikTok is becoming a new home for such conspiracies.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has committed $300m (£240m) to combat Covid-19, has remained sanguine about the barrage of false claims.
In a statement to the BBC it said: “We’re concerned about the conspiracy theories being spread online and the damage they could cause to public health.
“At a time like this, when the the world is facing an unprecedented health and economic crisis, it’s distressing that there are people spreading misinformation when we we should all be looking for ways to collaborate and save lives. Right now, one the best things we can do to stop the spread of Covid-19 is spread the facts.”
In an interview with the BBC, Bill Gates expressed surprise that he had become the figurehead of such theories.