Study reveals YouTube is to blame for spreading ‘Flat Earth’ conspiracy theories

Researchers believe they have identified the prime driver for a startling rise in the number of people who think the Earth is flat: Google’s video-sharing site, YouTube.

Their suspicion was raised when they attended the world’s largest gatherings of Flat Earthers at the movement’s annual conference in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 2017, and then in Denver, Colorado, last year.

They said that YouTube needs to make changes to its algorithms to make their systems more accurate but also called on experts to create content to disprove the claims. 

They interviewed 30 attendees where a pattern became evident in how they became convinced that the Earth was flat. 

Of the 30 people, only one said that they believed the Earth was round until two years ago but changed their minds after watching Youtube clips. ‘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,’ Dr Asheley Landrum, who led the research, told the Guardian.

The interviews also revealed that the attendees were predisposed to believing far-fetched ideas because they watched similar videos on 9/11 and the moon landings.

Some had even watched Flat Earth videos to discredit and debunk them but found that they were won over by the material. People who believe the idea that the Earth is disc-shaped rather than round are called ‘Flat Earthers’.

Their interviewes found themselves believers and before long were asking questions like ‘where is the curve?’ and ‘why is the horizon always at eye level?’, they said.

Dr Landrum said that one of the most popular videos is the two hour long ‘200 proofs Earth is not a spinning ball’, which has been turned into a book that has been translated into 20 different languages.

She says that this video appears to be effective because it offers arguments that appeal to so many mindsets, from fundamentalists and conspiracy theorists – and even scientists.

Dr Landrum said she did not think YouTube was doing anything ‘overtly wrong’, but that the site could tweak its algorithm to show more accurate information.

‘There’s a lot of helpful information on YouTube but also a lot of misinformation,’ Landrum said.

Dr Landrum said that scientists need to create their own YouTube videos to combat the rapid increase of conspiracy videos and try to disprove them.

‘We don’t want YouTube to be full of videos saying here are all these reasons the Earth is flat. We need other videos saying here’s why those reasons aren’t real and here’s a bunch of ways you can research it for yourself.’ 

The team presented her results at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington DC.

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