In mid-January 2024, a meme about Microsoft Co-Founder Bill Gates and digital identifications (IDs) was shared widely on the social media platform X:
The meme said: "Bill Gates: 'Digital ID Must Be Accepted by US citizen by 2028' Otherwise, risk 'exclusion from society"
As Snopes explained in a 2020 fact check, a digital ID is both a real concept that Gates has championed and a buzzword for Bill Gates conspiracy theorists.
As a real concept, it merely refers, broadly, to technology involving the cloud-based storage of personal-identification documents or other files accessible only with the consent of the owner, but available anywhere in the world. To conspiracy theorists, the concept is evidence of a group of unelected global elites who want to digitally control and surveil society.
The meme in question did not display an actual quote or sentiment expressed by Gates, however. The alleged quote stems from a December 2023 headline on a website — The People's Voice — that blends real news events with false and conspiratorial details:
The People's Voice is a rebrand of Newspunch, a long-time and well-known producer of disinformation. Its December story rehashed claims made in a November post that the United Nations said digital IDs "will be mandatory to participate in society.” Both pieces cite a program known as the 50-in-5 campaign as evidence.
That campaign seeks to bring what is referred to as digital public infrastructure (DPI) to 50 countries in five years. As the initiative's website explains, DPI encompasses digital IDs along with other technology:
[DPI] refers to a secure and interoperable network of components that include digital payments, ID, and data exchange systems – [and] is essential for participation in markets and society in a digital era. DPI is needed for all countries to build resilient and innovative economies, and for the well-being of people.
The initiative is not exclusively the domain of Gates or the United Nations. According to the initiative's website, "50-in-5 is a country-led advocacy campaign in collaboration with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Centre for Digital Public Infrastructure, Co-Develop, Digital Public Goods Alliance, and United Nations Development Programme, and is supported by GovStack, the Inter-American Development Bank, and UNICEF."
Both the United Nations and Gates, in a fact check by USA Today of a November 2023 iteration of the story, denied advocating for any DPI that is mandatory, or that by necessity excludes people from society:
The claim is false, spokespeople for the United Nations Development Program and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation told USA TODAY.
“The United Nations has not, at any point, claimed that digital ID will become mandatory,” Victor Garrido Delgado, the development program's spokesperson, said in an email.
Because there is no evidence that Gates ever expressed the sentiment or quote about digital identification in viral memes, and because his charitable foundation (and the United Nations) have denied expressing or supporting it as well, we rate this claim as "False."