Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in early 2024 that the company plans to disable the computers of users who share "non-mainstream content" online.
On Feb. 3, 2024, the website The People's Voice published an article with a picture of former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates and a headline that read, "Microsoft To Disable Computers of Users Who Share 'Non-Mainstream Content' Online."
The story claimed, "Microsoft has announced plans to disable the computers of people who share 'non-mainstream' content online, in an attempt to combat so-called 'misinformation' in the run-up to the 2024 election."
However, this rumor was both false and misleading, despite a label next to the headline that said the story had been "fact-checked."
One user commented under The People's Voice article, "Your headline has absolutely no merit based on the information you provide as context. Are you trying to mislead?"
The article cited as its evidence an interview with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who sat down with NBC News anchor Lester Holt for a conversation about AI (artificial intelligence) in late January.
At no point during the interview did Nadella say that the company planned to disable the computers of users who might share "non-mainstream content" online.
During the first question of the interview, Nadella was asked about AI and the potential for "fakes, fraud [and] disinformation." In his answer, he said of disinformation, "The key is for us as tech platform companies is to do everything in building the guardrails from the get-go," and later added, "It's about a really broader consensus in our society on how do we both, whether it's regulation or whether it's norms that we put in place, that allow us to make sure that there's safety from the get-go."
Moments later and during another answer, Nadella said that Microsoft was already in the practice of "watermarking and detecting deepfakes and content IDs." He then mentioned both misinformation and disinformation but did not say anything about disabling people's computers, as was claimed by the false rumor.
NBC News published a YouTube video that contained a short, edited version of the interview that aired during the "NBC Nightly News" newscast on Jan. 30.
A long and more detailed answer was found by Snopes in the extended interview that was only made available online. The transcript of the relevant portion of the extended interview is presented below in its original, word-for-word form:
HOLT: AI feels new to most of us who really kind of discovered its potential within the last year or so. But we talk about the exciting things, detecting and perhaps treating cancer. And then we talk about the worrisome thing. Fakes, fraud, disinformation. We've seen that already in the political arena. Does it give you pause as to what the potential and how far you can take this?
NADELLA: Absolutely, in the sense that, one of the things that I feel that's very healthy is we're not just talking about all of the things this new technology can do in terms of driving productivity or helping us reduce drudgery even in our everyday work and all of the benefits. But we're also talking about the unintended consequences. If anything, I think, we have learned even as a tech industry, is that we have to simultaneously address both of these. How do you really amplify the benefits and damper the unintended consequences?
So, I welcome the dialogue and let's take say, disinformation, right, as one area. The key is for us as tech platform companies to do everything in building the guardrails from the get-go. And, but by the way, this is not just about tech platforms and tech companies, but it's about a really broader consensus in our society on how do we both, whether it's regulation or whether it's norms that we put in place, that allow us to make sure that there's safety from the get-go.
HOLT: We're marching down the road to the first AI election. Are you holding your breath to see how AI can help and how it may be weaponized?
NADELLA: In fact, it goes back again, [but] this is not the first election where we dealt with disinformation or propaganda campaigns by adversaries and election interference and all of those things. So therefore, I think, what we have to go back again as, for example, I think we are doing all of the work across the tech industry around watermarking and detecting deepfakes and content IDs. There's going to be enough and more technology, quite frankly, in order to be able to identify the issues around disinformation and misinformation. Then, the question again comes back to, where's the ... how do we build consensus between parties [and] candidates, and the norms around what's acceptable [or] not acceptable?
Readers can watch Holt's full, extended interview with Nadella for themselves in two parts on the NBC News website. The news organization also published an article that reported the facts of the interview.
“Disinformation Definition & Meaning.” Britannica Dictionary, https://www.britannica.com/dictionary/disinformation.
Evon, Dan. “How to Spot a Deepfake.” Snopes, 8 June 2022, https://www.snopes.com/articles/423004/how-to-spot-a-deepfake/.
“Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella: Extended Interview (Part 1).” NBC News, 30 Jan. 2024, https://www.nbcnews.com/nightly-news/video/microsoft-ceo-satya-nadella-extended-interview-part-1-203269701893.
“Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella: Extended Interview (Part 2).” NBC News, https://www.nbcnews.com/video/microsoft-ceo-satya-nadella-extended-interview-part-2-203271749690.
“Misinformation Definition & Meaning.” Britannica Dictionary, https://www.britannica.com/dictionary/misinformation.
Nash, Kim S. “Gates Steps down as Microsoft CEO.” Computerworld, 13 Jan. 2000, https://www.computerworld.com/article/2593786/gates-steps-down-as-microsoft-ceo.html.
Wakabayashi, Daisuke, and Steve Lohr. “Bill Gates Stepping Down From Microsoft’s Board.” The New York Times, 13 Mar. 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/13/technology/bill-gates-microsoft-board.html.
Yang, Angela. “Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella Calls for Coordination to Address AI Risk.” NBC News, 30 Jan. 2024, https://www.nbcnews.com/tech/tech-news/microsoft-ceo-satya-nadella-calls-taylor-swift-deepfakes-alarming-terr-rcna136402.