Co-chair and Trustee of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bill Gates, speaks to the gathering during the inauguration of the 8th International Conference on Agriculture Statistics in New Delhi on November 18, 2019. (AFP / Money Sharma)

Bill Gates has not bought Telegram messaging app

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A screenshot of a purported news report claiming Bill Gates has purchased the encrypted messaging app Telegram has been shared repeatedly in Facebook posts in April 2021. The claim is false: Telegram and the Gates Foundation separately denied the claim on April 9, 2021. The screenshot shared in the social media posts has been doctored.

The screenshot was shared in a Facebook post published here on April 5, 2021.

It purports to show a Fox News report, with a ticker that reads: “600 MILLION DOLLARS DEAL BILL GATES BUYS TELEGRAM”.

The post's text caption states: "Bill Gates has just purchased the Telegram app in order to retain control of what information people can share, think and research. He also owns more farmland [sic] in the USA than anybody else."

"This was the man who was found guilty of attempting to try and monopolise the internet brower [sic] market in 1998."

The post also features a link to a YouTube video showing Gates’s deposition during a 1998 antitrust case against Microsoft, the technology company that he co-founded.

A screenshot of the misleading post as of April 9, 2021.

Telegram is an encrypted messaging app which launched on iOS devices in August 2013.

It has gained global popularity but was banned in several countries for refusing to cooperate with authorities and hand over encryption keys, AFP reported.

The posts emerged online following a deluge of rumours about Bill Gates, who has contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to global efforts to stem the Covid-19 pandemic. 

AFP Fact Check has previously debunked false claims that Gates planned to control the world through mass vaccination or microchip people in order to track their movements. 

Similar Facebook posts claiming Gates has purchased Telegram have also been published herehere and here

The claim, however, is false.

No sale

In response to the claim, Telegram told AFP on April 9, 2021 that “Telegram remains fully owned by Pavel Durov.” 

Durov, founder and CEO of Telegram, had written on his Telegram channel on how he would not sell the app, and raised $1 billion to ensure the company’s independence. 

"We are not going to sell the company like the founders of WhatsApp. The world needs Telegram to stay independent as a place where users are respected and high-quality service is ensured," he wrote in a post on December 23, 2020.

On March 24, 2021, Durov announced that Telegram had raised over $1 billion by selling bonds. 

“This will enable Telegram to continue growing globally while sticking to its values and remaining independent,” he wrote.

In an email to AFP on April 9, 2021, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said the claim is false.

Doctored news report

The screenshot that purports to show a Fox News report has been doctored from another report that does not mention Gates purchasing Telegram.

A Yandex reverse image search found this Internet Archive clip of the Fox News program America’s Newsroom, which aired on November 16, 2020.

Fox News breaking news anchor Trace Gallagher, who co-hosted the show that day, can be seen wearing the same tie as seen in the image in the misleading post.

"CELEBRITIES PUSH BACK AGAINST 'CANCEL CULTURE,'" the original news ticker reads.

Below is a comparison between the altered photo in the misleading post (L) and a screenshot of the Fox News program (R):

Other claims

The additional claims in the posts that Gates “owns more farmland in the USA than anybody else” and that he attempted to “monopolise the Internet browser market in 1998” are true.

Gates and his wife Melinda became the largest private farmland owners in the US, according to a January 11, 2021 report by magazine The Land Report, with an ownership of 242,000 acres.  

However, the largest landowner in the US is billionaire John Malone, who owns 2,200,000 acres according to the 2020 edition of the Land Report 100.

The claim that Gates attempted to monopolise the Internet browsing market appears to refer to a lawsuit he faced in 1998.

The United States government filed an antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft in May 1998, accusing the company of illegally protecting its monopoly on the personal computer market by making it more difficult to uninstall Internet Explorer and use other competing web browsers, among other restrictions.

In April 2000, a US District Court ruled that Microsoft “maintained its monopoly power by anticompetitive means and attempted to monopolize the Web browser market,” violating US antitrust laws. 

The US Department of Justice and Microsoft reached a settlement in November 2001, agreeing on a set of restrictions for the company.