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YouTube is fueling the rise in flat earth believers

Esther Vargas/Flickr (CC-BY-SA)

The Flat Earthers are expanding, thanks to YouTube.

A recent survey reveals YouTube videos are fueling an increasing number of people who believe in the conspiracy that the earth is flat.

Asheley Landrum, who led the research at Texas Tech University, interviewed 30 attendees from the annual Flat Earth International Conference, one of the biggest gatherings of Flat Earthers, which took place in Denver, Colorado, last year.

Among the believers there, biblical references were one of the main reasons many said they believe the earth is shaped like a flat pancake, the Guardian reported in November.

But the belief is strong even among those who would’ve once thought it a crazy idea. And that is largely because of conspiracy theories videos on YouTube—some which often appear in related content to videos about Sandy Hook and 9/11 conspiracy theories.

What’s even more concerning, many said they actually wanted to watch the videos to dismiss them—only to find themselves falling into the belief instead.

Landrum told the Guardian that YouTube shouldn’t be entirely blamed for this, but that they can help by fixing their algorithms in order to ensure not too many of these videos appear.

She said one video in particular, “200 proofs Earth is not a spinning ball,” appeared to be a hit among many because of the different schools of thoughts it appealed to. It was published in September 2016 and had 675,000 views as of Monday morning. In its description, the video had links for people to donate to the cause via Google Pay.

Google is reportedly making changes. Last month, the company announced they will be “reducing recommendations of borderline content and content that could misinform users in harmful ways.” The list of issues include conspiracies about the Earth being flat.

“We don’t want YouTube to be full of videos saying here are all these reasons the Earth is flat,” Landrum told the Guardian. “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.”

In a statement to the Daily Dot, YouTube highlighted fact-checking improvements its made in the past few years to fight conspiracies the percolate on its site.

“YouTube is a platform for free speech where anyone can choose to post videos, as long as they follow our Community Guidelines,” a spokesperson told the Daily Dot.” Over the last year, we’ve worked to better surface credible news sources across our site for people searching for news-related topics, begun reducing recommendations of borderline content and videos that could misinform users in harmful ways and introduced information panels to help give users more sources where they can fact check information for themselves.”

This article has been updated. 

Samira Sadeque

Samira Sadeque

Samira Sadeque is a New York-based journalist reporting on immigration, sexual violence, and mental health, and will sometimes write about memes and dinosaurs too. Her work also appears in Reuters, NPR, and NBC among other publications. She graduated from Columbia Journalism School, and her work has been nominated for SAJA awards. Follow: @Samideque