If you’re struggling to grasp why some people defend the flat earth theory so ferociously, it helps to remember that it’s just as much a real theory people believe in as it is a representation of general mistrust for the media’s dominant narrative.
The video below is a perfect example; a short clip of Alex Jones saying that he doesn’t believe the earth is flat, but if the mainstream media said it was spherical, he’d start to question it.
Alex Jones: the earth may be flat purely on the basis that the mainstream media says it isn’t pic.twitter.com/UlBXDF2aXm
— Benjamin Brandall ✨ (@benjbrandall) July 3, 2017
That’s the basic attitude that sums up why flat earth theory is so popular; it’s an extended metaphor blown out of proportion. It’s the equivalent of the #woke community knocking out shitty memes in Paint claiming that 1+1=3 purely because it goes against one of the most basic truths we’ve been told.
And then, imagine if some cosmic fluke placed those memes in the hands of YouTubers with enough spare time to crank out thousands of hours of documentary material picking apart the information as if it was even in question.
The popularity of flat earth theory over time
And so, with the spirit of “If the earth is flat, then what else are they lying to us about?” in their hearts, this skeptical group of outsiders, Alex Jones fans, and amateur documentarians have carved out their own filter bubbles on every corner of the internet.
It’s often the case that supporters of the flat earth theory don’t really know why they believe it to be true, or why they gravitate towards conspiracy theories over the generally accepted way of thinking. A great example of this comes from Joe Rogan’s podcast with Eddie Bravo. In addition to flat earth, Bravo also believes the old classics: 9/11 was an inside job, and the government spray people with chemtrails.
Since Twitter is a transparent and searchable platform, we can use its data (and some examples from flat earth truther accounts) to take a deeper look into what created this phenomenon, and the kinds of content that fans the flames. There seem to be two threads that connect the flat earth conspiracy: mistrust for authority that leads to reliance on circumstantial evidence, and Christianity.
“I know it’s true because I’ve seen it with my own eyes”
When the media sets out to deceive you about one of the most basic truths there is, the only way you can defend yourself is with your own proof. And, one of the most common kinds of proof flat earthers share is simply images of a flat horizon.
Armed with consumer electronics believed to be more reliable than actual space rockets, flat earthers seek constantly to prove the earth is flat based on single instances where the earth’s curvature is too subtle for the human eye to register a curve.
— Nate Flatz (@NateFlatz) July 2, 2017
People believe the earth is flat because it feels flat. @InertEarth’s Twitter bio reads “Land is stationary, just as it feels.”. Like scientists in the 6th century AD, flat earthers need to rely purely on what they can see themselves because anyone with enough money to use proper equipment is being funded by the deep state, and NASA is a militarized secret society.
Flat earth’s ties with Christianity
— Sanza (@Sanza11849237) June 23, 2017
Not only does the acceptance of a spherical earth contradict the beliefs of fringe conspiracy groups, it contradicts the Bible. At least, it does in the minds of some. This data from hashtagify.me shows that accounts associated with flat earth are often also connected with topics like Jesus, The Bible, and Satan.
According to the image by @Sanza11849237, belief in a flat earth also confirms 100% of the Bible, and means that humankind is special. Flat earth’s ties to Christianity make sense especially when you look at the data for who’s talking about it and where, and see that most of the tweets with the #flatearth hashtag come from the United States.
When I was examining the rise of Alex Jones in an earlier article I spoke to documentary filmmaker and podcaster Nathan Bernard about what he thought makes Jones popular. He mentioned that Jones’ supporters were often people on the fringe of society, pushed to the edges by their refusal to comply with the system, trust the government, or have their conservative Christian ideals trampled by social progress.
While Jones’ theories are largely political and related to corruption (and he dodges any flat earth question), flat earthers have a symbolic mistrust in the entirety of scientific progression since the 3rd century BC, when a spherical earth was proven by Archimedes in the first book of his treatise On floating bodies.
Despite proof that has held up since literal ancient times, passing remarks in the Bible (about the ‘four corners’ of the Earth, and a story about seeing every kingdom of the earth from a high mountaintop) serve as just about the right amount of proof most flat earthers believe to refute hard science with the support of God.
Flat earth as a subculture
The belief in a flat earth is so fundamentally counter-narrative that it doesn’t gel with popular culture. Like Jones’ gang of conspiracy theorists, flat earthers are pushed into subcultures, dedicating much of their energy towards disproving the earth’s curvature and converting other people to their belief system.
The Flat Earth Society seems to be the closest thing to an official organization for flat earthers. It was founded in the 1800s by Samuel Rowbotham, an English inventor. Rowbotham’s ideas in Zelectic Astronomy are the origin point of many of today’s flat earth theories, including the idea that the Earth is surrounded by a wall of ice and that the sun is much closer than we’re told.
Like most subcultures, the subculture formed on the belief in a flat earth has its own terminology to explain its theories, and its own insults to separate themselves from the “ball earthers”.
Just saw a flat-earther call a satellite engineer a “spherecuck” on here sooo I think I’m done for the day
— Kirsten Howard (@emotionalpedant) May 5, 2017
It’s already hard enough to believe these people are being serious, but the same way that it’s implausible to believe NASA puts all of its resources into advanced CGI to maintain a ball earth myth, it’s hard to believe that hundreds of thousands of people are dedicated hours out of their days to maintain an elaborate meme.