Flat Earthers and the Problem with Internet in 2019
Flat Earthers are the dumbest conspiracy theorist on the internet.
But they’re interesting.
Primarily because they’re trying to prove something that has no bearing whatsoever on anything or anybody. Science aside, if it was revealed that Earth was flat tomorrow, literally nothing would change. Conniving governments would’ve plotted a centuries-old lies for no reason whatsoever. The shape of the Earth doesn’t oppress people. It’s not the reason why there are wars, terrorism and inequities in the world. It’s been a piece of general knowledge since people went in space to take photos like this:
They went to space and I didn’t. Shuttle launches were televised for decades, so I have no logical reason whatsoever to believe someone who studied, trained and networked all his life to go to space is lying to me. Plus, science did an awesome job at explaining why the Earth looks the way it looks. This is a non-problem that’s been solved in 1961 when Yuri Gagarin was shot in space. He must’ve said something in Russian akin to: “Shit. I guess it is round after all. Vodka is on me, comrad Khrushchev.”
But internet happened and Flat Earth theories became a thing again.
And it’s interesting to me, because we can deduce so much from the lowest common denominator of internet idiocy about our collective online self-destruction. Because Flat Earth theories are very much an internet thing. See, the issue isn’t that the Earth is flat or not. It’s about truth being “the property of an elite.” It’s about people coming from more fortunate background, who went to college, telling everyone else what to think and how to conceptualize the world. Before the internet, college were the preferred destination where to get education. People paid obscene money to go there and learn how shit works. It was the social contract.
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Internet changed that for it democratized access to information and gave everyone with a modem equal opportunity to become an educator. If you put it out there and it’s packaged in a seducing enough manner, there is an audience for you. This is an important thing about the internet that no one seems to realize: it is insanely good at making people seem equally intelligent. On social platforms such as Facebook, Twitter or YouTube, discourse is the only variable that will either make you popular, infamous or ignored. There are no titles you can earn to grant credibility to what you’re saying. There is Facebook and Twitter “verified” seals, but it’s been proved multiple times that it can be given to anybody.
On the internet, you don’t need to make sense or even verify what you're saying. You only need to be popular. That… *drum rolls*…. Donald Trump understands it. He exploits the shit out of it. He’s not the smartest guy that ever was, but he was smart enough to use that tidbit of knowledge (and his Twitter account) to split the world in half. He’s empowering to people who support his message, infuriating to those that don’t, but he’s all over the headlines. But what I’m trying to say here is that Donald Trump and Flat Earthers are symptoms of a problem we’re all collectively feeding. Of a hole we’ve dug ourselves into.
We’ll eventually get rid of them, but the problem is going to persist if we don’t act on it. Our relationships to entertainment and information have become entangled. I mean, it arguably started before the internet with the advent of television but the democratizing powers of the web has created a lawless wasteland where every source of information is equally accessible, so people often settle for the most entertaining ones. And a conspiracy theory is way more fucking entertaining and easy to understand than a physics class. It’s something you don’t really need to work in order to understand. Same goes for Donald Trump and his “easy” solutions to problems that don’t really have one.
Is there a solution to this problem? I don’t know, but I like to believe that the advent of edutainment channels on YouTube like Wisecrack, which bridge the gap between conventional academic learning and a fun, entertaining product are a step in the right direction. They are popular enough to be credible on the internet (2,5 million subscribers) because they make people feel smart. Is it how we’ll reappropriate the 400 years of knowledge we’ve been flushing away for more entertaining alternatives for the last 25 years? It’s perhaps one way we’ll do it. But we need rock stars of facts and knowledge that treat everyone the same way.
This is the new reality. Our need to be entertained is dictating our relationship to everything else, including information. That’s why we have Flat Earthers who like to believe in a government conspiracy an think of themselves as crusaders of the truth. That’s why we have a U.S president who constantly says that everyone is lying but him. It’s easier to understand and it puts you at the center of a narrative where you’re the underdog. Now the real question is: how will we reestablish a hierarchy of knowledge in our society?
I have no answer for that, but social platforms where you can spread disinformation at will would have to go right off the bat.