Flat-Earthers and the Circle of Mistrust

Earth

Flat-Earthers and the Circle of Mistrust

Illustration: Akshita Monga

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couple of years ago, I remember a friend telling me that he believed the Earth was flat and that NASA was a lie. His lips contorted into a smug smile, as he told me about this “fact” he knew because he’d been “reading about it”.

It went against everything I’d been taught in school, so I had more than a few questions, which my friend answered credibly, citing facts from his loony friends at the Flat Earth Society. Our conversation, aided by alcohol, carried on into the late hours and eventually ended with me admitting that I should be more open-minded to new theories, and not just believe everything the “government” tells me all the time. 

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That night, I made it a point to check out this so-called Flat Earth Society, and didn’t take long to realise that is was in the esteemed company of other giant conspiracy theories, such as the Illuminati, who have sold a bunch of famous people’s souls to the devil, people who believe that 9/11 was an inside job, and those who think that the moon landing was a fake.

So I dived straight into the world of YouTube propaganda videos and discovered that it is a thrilling one. Everything from Michael Jackson faking his own death and Justin Bieber’s past as a young lizard child has a YouTube video specifically dedicated to it. Some of them are so persuasive that before you know it, you’re really questioning everything you know about life.

After going on a “flat Earth proof” spree, during which I saw every “flat Earth proof video” that exists on YouTube, it happened to me. As one flat-Earther went on in all seriousness about “how NASA had photoshopped every image of the Earth from space”, and “how if you follow a ship with a camera, you’ll realise it is always sailing straight”, the whole idea began to look slightly more believable. These videos had decent production quality, a deep, knowing voiceover, a series of out-of-context quotes, a bevy of fringe scientists (such as Shamanologists), and a banging conclusion that made me wonder why I ever bothered going to school.

“Who do you believe now?”

YouTube propaganda videos are a rage today because in today’s times, nobody trusts anyone. There is literally no better time to be a conspiracy theorist.

It certainly didn’t help that exactly around the time, the whole flat Earth theory was in the process of being publicly supported by two very prominent American basketball stars, Kyrie Irving and Shaquille O’Neal. There was more to this.

The flat Earth theory has origins in the Middle Ages when the Roman Catholics were happy to set fire to anybody who disagreed with them. Once that whole dark situation died down, it was commonly accepted that the Earth was an oblate spheroid – or kinda round thing. For many years, this was taken as gospel. Then in the late 1800s one man named Samuel Rowbotham, decided that Jesus’s was the only gospel he followed and refuted all round Earth theories in his no-nonsense book, Earth is Not a Globe. In doing so, he created the Modern Free Earth Society, a society that is so weird, the government is considering giving them tax breaks.

In recent times, it has also spouted a number of blind followers, as is characteristic on the post-truth internet. These people, I assume, go around living their lives believing that they will fall off the face of the Earth if they walk in a straight line.  

I went to sleep half-believing that high-resolution images from satellites taken from outer space of the Earth being spherical were the product of the imagination of a 14-year-old with a Photoshop account, and that NASA was an organisation that existed only to launder money.

The next morning, however, common sense dawned, and I began to do some actual reading. Turns out, if you follow a ship around with a camera, it would naturally appear to be sailing straight, since the camera’s perspective is also going along with the contour of the Earth. Who would have thought?

Apparently, you also don’t need to spend years studying physics to watch a ship sail away from the shore of a beach and see the bottom half disappear into the horizon before the mast, thanks to the natural curvature of the Earth. The more I questioned the chimera of certainty created by high-quality videos and deep voiceovers from last night, the faster it began to disintegrate, until I was left with the dull, everyday certainty of the Earth, in fact, being wholly round.

YouTube propaganda videos are a rage today because in today’s times, nobody trusts anyone. There is literally no better time to be a conspiracy theorist. Even the most ridiculous views find supporters, and you end up with actual human beings who believe that all pugs are spies for Vodafone.

Any scorn directed toward a government, or the CIA, or NASA is going to work just fine, because these are just three big bodies that are viewed with distrust anyway. With millions of videos on YouTube, it’s possible to type a combination of any two words and you will find hundreds of people who have put up a low-budget video agreeing with you.

A wise man once said that there is a sucker born every minute, but going by the number of views on these videos, the figure seems close to a thousand. And really, the internet does not help make them smarter.

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