Fact check: No, Bill Gates didn’t purchase the encrypted messaging app Telegram

The claim: Bill Gates purchased the messaging app Telegram

When it comes to being the target of viral misinformation, Bill Gates is a frequent flyer. 

We’ve debunked false claims about Gates that involved allegations he was using vaccine research to microchip recipients, planned the COVID-19 pandemic and was conducting research to block out the sun, among others.

Now, social media users have falsely claimed Gates purchased Telegram, a popular messaging app among far-right extremists, to accuse Gates of censorship. 

“Bill Gates has just purchased the Telegram app in order to retain control of what information people can share, think and research,” reads an image posted to Facebook on April 6.

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The image appears to be a screenshot of another Facebook post, although the original poster’s name and the post date are obstructed. The post also includes an image of a Fox News report with correspondent Trace Gallagher and an altered chyron that reads “600 MILLION DOLLARS DEAL BILL GATES BUYS TELEGRAM.”

The post also claims that Gates owns the most farmland in the USA, references Microsoft’s 1998 antitrust lawsuit and shares a link to a YouTube video of Gates’ 1998 deposition for that case. 

“This is the man who was found guilty of attempting to (sic) monopolise the internet (sic) brower market in 1998,” claims the post. 

In this file photo taken on September 26, 2018 Bill Gates and his wife Melinda Gates introduce the Goalkeepers event at the Lincoln Center in New York. (Photo: LUDOVIC MARIN, AFP via Getty Images)

It is true that Gates and his wife own the most farmland in the U.S. and that Microsoft was found guilty of illegal business practices, but we’ll focus our attention on the Telegraph claim. That one has no basis in reality.

Bill Gates, chairman and CEO of Microsoft, left, talks to Ballmer on July 21, 1998, in Redmond, Wash. Gates appointed Ballmer to the position of president of Microsoft. (Photo: Jeff Christensen, AP)

The Facebook user that posted the claim did not respond to USA TODAY’s request for comment.

Telegram confirms it hasn’t been purchased by Gates

A Telegram spokesman said the company has not been sold.

Remi Vaughn, press and media relations spokesperson for Telegram, directed USA TODAY to several statements published by Reuters in April. 

“Telegram remains fully owned by Pavel Durov,” Telegram told Reuters.

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In a December post to his own channel, Durov wrote that he would not sell the app and planned to maintain its independence. In March, Durov announced Telegram made more than $1 billion through bond sales.

In April, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation told Reuters and AFP that the claim was false.

Pavel Durov (Photo: Nadine Rupp / Getty Images)

The original image shows Fox didn’t report Gates bought Telegram

The Fox News screenshot used in the post  was altered. The original image was pulled from a Nov. 16 broadcast of “America’s Newsroom.”

Gallagher’s tie, facial expression and the pattern on the television set behind him indicate the screengrab was taken about 2 seconds in this clip of the broadcast.

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The original chyron read, “CELEBRITIES PUSH BACK AGAINST ‘CANCEL CULTURE,’” and showed a promotional image for a Fox broadcast set to air that night. The edited chyron replaced that image with one of Gates.

AFP Fact check compared side-by-side images of the post and the broadcast and found them to be a match. 

Our rating: False

We rate the claim that Gates purchased the encrypted messaging application Telegram FALSE, because it is not supported by our research. Telegram and the Gates foundation both confirmed this is not true. An image that appears to show a Fox News report on the matter was altered.

Our fact check sources:

  • USA TODAY, June 12, 2020, Fact check: Bill Gates is not planning to microchip the world through a COVID-19 vaccine
  • USA TODAY, Aug. 25, 2020, Fact check: ‘Plandemic’ sequel makes false claims about Bill Gates
  • USA TODAY, Aug. 23, 2020, Fact check: Bill Gates is not trying to ‘block the sun’s rays’ in the name of climate change
  • USA TODAY, Jan. 13, Banned from Facebook and Twitter, pro-Trump extremists hatch Inauguration Day violence in dark reaches of the web
  • YouTube, Joe John, Nov. 3, 2018, Bill Gates – Microsoft Antitrust Deposition – Highlights
  • Entrepreneur, April 6, Bill Gates Explains Why He’s the Largest Farmland Owner in America
  • The Seattle Times, May 11, 2011, Long antitrust saga ends for Microsoft
  • May 6, Telegram message, Remi Vaughn, press and media relations
  • Reuters, April 6, Fact Check-Bill Gates did not purchase Telegram
  • Telegram, Dec. 23, 2020, Durov’s Channel
  • Telegram, March 23, Durov’s Channel
  • AFP Fact Check, April 12, Bill Gates has not bought Telegram messaging app
  • Media Matters For America, Nov. 16, 2020, Fox’s chief breaking news correspondent: Fox News primetime “stands for what is right”

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Our fact check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.

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