The rise in people who think the Earth is flat is caused by convincing YouTube videos that ‘promote misinformation’, psychologists have suggested.
Researchers say the platform should present a more balanced list of content rather than one-sided conspiracy theories.
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.
The rise in people who think the Earth (artist’s impression) is flat is caused by convincing YouTube videos which ‘promote misinformation’, a study claims. Researchers say the platform should present a more balanced list of content rather than one-sided ideas (stock image)
The researchers, from Texas Tech University, said that their suspicions were solidified when they went to two Flat Earth conventions in North Carolina and Denver last year and in 2017.
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 Earth is disc-shaped (artist’s impression) rather than round are called ‘Flat Earthers’. A number of videos promoting the Flat Earth conspiracy exist on YouTube, but the team says that there aren’t enough to contest them (stock image)
People who believe the idea that the Earth is disc-shaped rather than round are called ‘Flat Earthers’.
A number of videos promoting the Flat Earth conspiracy exist on YouTube, but the team says that there aren’t enough to contest them.
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.
A spokeswoman for Youtube told Mail Online that they are working to provide more context to users about the news they watch on the site.
‘We started showing notices below videos uploaded by news broadcasters that receive some level of government or public funding,’ they said.
They also announced plans to show additional information cues, including a text box or information panel linking to third-party sources around widely accepted events, like the moon landing and are ‘looking to expand these to more topics soon, including flat earth videos’.
‘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 phony 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.’
WHAT IS FLAT EARTH THEORY?
Those who believe the Flat Earth Theory claim our planet is shaped like a flat disc instead of a sphere.
Because Earth’s surface looks and feels flat when we walk around it, the conspiracy theorists denounce all evidence to the contrary.
The leading theory suggests Earth is a disc with the Arctic Circle in the centre and Antarctica, a 150-foot-tall (45-metre) wall of ice, around the rim.
Those who believed the Flat Earth Theory claim our planet is shaped like a flat disc instead of a sphere. Pictured is a model presented to attendees at the first annual Flat Earth International Conference, held in North Carolina in November 2017
Theorists claim that satellite images and evidence pointing to a spherical Earth are part of a ’round Earth conspiracy’ orchestrated by NASA and other government agencies.
Proponents of the bizarre theory also claim the Earth is stationary in space rather than orbiting the sun.
Some believe the Earth is covered by a glass dome which sits over the flat disc.
The international scientific community has consistently denounced the Flat Earth theory.
Decades of space imagery and peer-reviewed astronomical research back their claims.
NASA has proved that the Earth is round using satellites, GPS and images from space, but ‘Flat Earthers’ believe the space agency is lying.
‘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.’
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.