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The Earth isn’t flat, but you’d never know that from watching YouTube

Published Feb 18th, 2019 5:30PM EST

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The internet makes it possible for the average person to access an incredibly vast amount of knowledge amassed over centuries, as long as they know where to look. Unfortunately, it also makes it very easy for conspiracy nuts to peddle their off-the-wall “truths” along those same information channels.

YouTube, the most popular video sharing site on the planet, is packed with more than its fair share of questionable content, and fake news is no exception. One of the darker and more bizarre corners of YouTube that continues to find an audience includes conspiracy videos that feature the “flat Earth” as a centerpiece. As it turns out, YouTube may be largely responsible for such theories catching on.

Asheley Landrum, assistant professor of science communication at Texas Tech University recently did some digging into this strange YouTube phenomenon and found that not only are Flat Earth videos getting plenty of attention, but they’re actually converting at least some of the visitors who find themselves watching conspiracy content.

As Engadget reports, Landrum presented her research at this year’s meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She detailed her own trips to a conference in North Carolina where Flat Earth believers gather, and noted that many of them credit YouTube videos with bringing them into the fold.

Landrum explained that she interviewed 30 separate Flat Earthers during her trip and a full 29 of them said they had no interest in the Flat Earth movement until watching videos on Google’s video platform. Such videos are often packed with pseudoscience and completely erroneous claims that are not only roundly decried by scientists but also easily disproved with experiments you can do yourself.

One of the biggest issues with YouTube’s search and suggestion format is that it often promotes content similar to whatever you might already be watching, sending you down a “rabbit hole” of conspiracy insanity if you happen to end up on a single Flat Earth video. Landrum argues that Google could be doing more to protect viewers from content that is patently false, and encourages actual scientists to create content debunking the dubious information floating around on the site.