Researchers Find YouTube Is Heavily Influencing Evidence-Challenged Flat Earthers

Could YouTube partly be responsible for the increase in “flat earthers”? Researchers have discovered that many flat earthers were persuaded by YouTube videos. Many of these videos had been recommended or promoted by YouTube’s algorithm.

A “flat earther” is a person who believes that the earth is a flat plane or disc instead of a sphere. Many ancient civilizations including the Greeks, Egyptians, and Mesopotamians held this belief and incorporated the theory into their cosmology. Although modern scientists have concluded that the earth is a sphere, the flat earth theory never truly disappeared. The theory has recently gained popularity thanks to social media.

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Dr. Asheley Landrum, an associate professor of strategic science communication, led a team of researchers at Texas Tech University. The researchers attended the annual flat earther conference in Raleigh, North Carolina in 2017 and the conference in Denver, Colorado in 2018. They interviewed a total of thirty self-proclaimed flat earthers.

The results of the interviews were rather surprising. All but one of the interviewees stated that they had previously believed that the earth was round until they watched a few YouTube videos. Some interviewees noted that they had gone to the Internet to find information that disproved the flat earth theory, but found themselves persuaded by the videos’ arguments. Some interviewees mentioned that they had been watching videos about other conspiracies and were then “recommended" flat earth videos by YouTube’s algorithm. The one interviewee who had not watched any YouTube videos himself had heard about them from his relatives.

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Why have so many people been persuaded by flat earth YouTube videos? Dr. Landrum states on her university website that “information is filtered and processed through our 'priors'—e.g., our attitudes, beliefs, identities, knowledge, and values that we hold prior to encountering the communicated information.” For example, if you tried an apple as a child and did not enjoy the taste, you would probably be less inclined to eat apples as an adult. Likewise, if you watch a YouTube video and believe that NASA staged the moon landing, you may also be more likely to think that the earth is flat.

Dr. Landrum presented her team’s research findings at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington D.C. She encouraged her fellow scientists to publish their own YouTube videos that debunk flat earth theories. Regardless of your beliefs, this research certainly suggests that you are what you eat (or watch, read, etc.).