With so many conspiracy theories flying around these days, it’s easy to get stuck in a rabbit hole and spend hours researching these theories on the internet.
But perhaps one of the most prominent is the Flat Earth conspiracy theory, whereby – well, it kind of speaks for itself, doesn’t it – people think the Earth is flat.
Researchers believe they have identified the main reason behind the growing rise in the number of people who think the earth is flat, and that reason is YouTube.
As reported by The Guardian, the research – carried out at Texas Tech University – consisted of interviews with people who attended the world’s largest gatherings of Flat Earthers. One such gathering was in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 2017, and the other was in Denver, Colorado, last year.
Researchers interviewed 30 attendees in an attempt to find a pattern in the stories people told about how they came to be convinced that the Earth is not round, as we are taught, but is instead flat.
Of the 30 interviewees, all but one said they only came to believe the Earth in the past couple of years, after watching videos which promote conspiracy theories on YouTube.
Asheley Landrum, who led the research and presented her results at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington DC, said:
The only person who didn’t say this was there with his daughter and his son-in-law and they had seen it on YouTube and told him about it.
The research also found that most had been watching videos about other conspiracies – such as 9/11, the Sandy Hook massacre, and the moon landing – when YouTube suggested Flat Earth videos for them to watch next.
Some said they initially only watched the videos in an attempt to debunk them, but soon found themselves won over by the material.
Landrum said she did not think YouTube was doing anything overtly wrong, but said that if the site tweaked its algorithm to show more accurate information it could help their cause.
There’s a lot of helpful information on YouTube but also a lot of misinformation. Their algorithms make it easy to end up going down the rabbit hole, by presenting information to people who are going to be more susceptible to it.
Believing the Earth is flat in of itself is not necessarily harmful, but it comes packaged with a distrust in institutions and authority more generally. We want people to be critical consumers of the information they are given, but there is a balance to be had.
A spokesperson for YouTube told the Daily Mail they are working to provide more context to users about the news they watch on the site.
The spokesperson said:
We recently announced that we’ll begin reducing recommendations of borderline content or videos that could misinform users in harmful ways—such as videos promoting a phoney miracle cure for a serious illness, claiming the earth is flat, or making blatantly false claims about historic events like 9/11.
This will be a gradual change and will initially only affect recommendations of a very small set of videos in the United States. Over time, our systems will become more accurate and we’re going to roll this change out to more countries.
Well, that’s me spending the night searching YouTube for conspiracy theories.
Maybe I’ll be writing articles about how the Earth is flat tomorrow… who knows.
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A Broadcast Journalism Masters graduate who went on to achieve an NCTJ level 3 Diploma in Journalism, Lucy has done stints at ITV, BBC Inside Out and Key 103. While working as a journalist for UNILAD, Lucy has reported on breaking news stories while also writing features about mental health, cervical screening awareness, and Little Mix (who she is unapologetically obsessed with).