Bill Gates gets a rise from his ‘joke’ about Google and Facebook’s digital philanthropy

Bill Gates
Bill Gates
World Economic Forum

In case you missed it, due perhaps to the Financial Times’ incredibly boring and self-congratulary headline trumpeting its ‘exclusive interview‘ with Bill Gates, the big news here was that the Microsoft founder and global philanthropist-in-chief labeled the tech industry’s focus on helping the poorest by improving web connectivity a joke.

As FT reported last week, Gates said:

“Hmm, which is more important, connectivity or malaria vaccine? If you think connectivity is the key thing, that’s great. I don’t,” said Gates. When discussing the goal of connecting five billion people to the mobile Internet, Gates said: “As a priority? It’s a joke.”

His comments continue to reverberate, prompting Forbes to publish an editorial arguing that Gates is wrong and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg is right. Author Mark Worstall said:

“The main problem in the world is not disease, nor malnutrition, nor education: it’s poverty. Solve the poverty and all of the other problems become infinitely more malleable, hugely easier to solve.”

Getting everyone connected to the Internet is the best way to fight poverty, Worstall argued. The web and other forms of ‘connectivity’ technology like mobile phones, he contended, are much more able to empower the poor than the lack of disease. He doesn’t actually back up his claim with much evidence, which is I guess what makes it an opinion piece.

RedOrbit also followed up on the FT article today, noting that Gates didn’t directly poke fun at Facebook or Google’s efforts to bridge the global digitial divide – even though the headline says he does.

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Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at]humanosphere.org or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.