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I watched hundreds of flat-Earth videos to learn how conspiracy theories spread

All over the world, against all scientific evidence, part of the population believes that the circular shape of the Earth is either an unproven theory or an elaborate hoax. Surveys by YouGov America in 2018 and FDU It was found in 2022 that up to 11% of Americans believe the Earth may be flat.

While it is tempting to dismiss “flat-earthers” as somewhat amusing, we ignore their arguments at our peril. suffrage He explains that there is an overlap between conspiracy theories, some of which can act as gateways to extremism. legal and the The Great Substitution TheoryFor example, it has proven to be fatal more From Once.

By studying how flat-earths talk about their beliefs, we can learn how to make their arguments interact with their audience, and in turn, learn what makes misinformation spread online.

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at recent days studyMy colleague Thomas Nelson at Linnaeus University and I analyzed hundreds of YouTube videos in which people argue that the Earth is flat. We have paid attention to their debating techniques to understand the structure of their arguments and how they make them appear rational.

One strategy they use is to take sides in current discussions. People who are deeply attached to one side of a culture war are more likely to use all arguments (including facts, half-truths, and opinions) if it helps them win. People invest their identity in the group and are more willing to believe fellow allies rather than perceived opponents – a phenomenon that sociologists call New tribal.

The problem arises when people absorb misinformation as part of their identity. While news articles can be validated, personal beliefs cannot be validated. When conspiracy theories are part of someone’s value system or worldview, it is difficult to challenge them.

The Three Topics of Flat Earth Theory

Analyzing these videos, we have noticed that Flat Earthers are taking advantage of the ongoing culture wars by bringing their own arguments into the logic of three major debates in the first place. These discussions are long-standing and can be very personal to participants on both sides.

The first is the debate about the existence of God, which dates back to antiquity and is based on reason rather than observation. People are already debating atheism versus belief, evolution versus creation, and the clever Big Bang v design. What flat Earthers do is make their argument within the long-running struggle of the Christian right, by arguing that atheists use pseudoscience – evolution, the Big Bang and the Earth around – to keep people away from God.

A common implication for flat Earthers engaging in religious beliefs is that God can physically inhabit the sky above us only in a flat plane, not a sphere. As one of its Flat members said:

They invented the Big Bang to deny that God created everything, they invented evolution to convince you that he cares more about monkeys than you do… They invented the round earth because God can’t be above you if he is also under you, and they invented the infinite universe, to make you believe that God is far About you.

The second topic is the conspiracy theory that sees ordinary people standing up against the ruling elite of corrupt politicians and celebrities. Knowledge is power, and this theory argues that those in power conspire to keep knowledge to themselves by distorting the essential nature of reality. The message is that people can be easily controlled if they believe what they are told rather than believing it with their own eyes. In fact, the Earth appears flat to the naked eye. Flat Earthers see themselves as part of a community of unsung heroes, fighting against elite tyranny who make the public not believe what they see.

The third theme is based on the “free-thinking” argument, which traces back to the spirited debate about the existence or absence of God in the text of the US Constitution. This secular view argues that sane people should not believe in authority or dogma—instead, they should trust only their own reason and experience. Free thinkers do not trust experts who use “biblical knowledge” or “nonsense mathematics” that ordinary people cannot replicate. Flat Earthers often use personal observations to test whether the Earth is round, especially through homemade experiments. They see themselves as visionaries and scholars of the past, like contemporary Galileo.

Possible counterarguments

It’s hard to counter misinformation on social media when people perceive it as a personal belief. Fact-checking can be ineffective and counterproductive, because misinformation becomes a personal opinion or value.

Responding to flat Earthers (or other conspiracy theorists) requires understanding the logic that makes their arguments compelling. For example, if you know that they find arguments from authority unconvincing, choosing a government scientist as the spokesperson for the counter-argument may be ineffective. Alternatively, it may be more attractive to suggest a homemade experience that anyone can repeat.

If you can identify the rationality behind their specific beliefs, a counterargument can engage this logic. Group workers are often key to this – only a speaker with impeccable credentials as a devout Christian can say that you don’t need Flat Earth beliefs to remain true to your faith.

In general, beliefs such as the Flat Earth Theory, QAnon, and the Great Substitution Theory grow because they capture a sense of the identity of the group under attack. Even misinformation and far-fetched conspiracies can make sense if they align with existing grievances. Since discussions on social media only require content to be posted, participants create a feedback loop that reinforces misinformation as unverifiable viewpoints.

Article by Carlos Diaz RuizAssistant Professor, Hankin School of Economics

This article has been republished from Conversation Under a Creative Commons License. Read the original article.

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