It’s sad and stupid, but apparently people thinking the Earth is flat is still a thing. Excerpt:
The Flat Earth Society’s site — which posits that the idea of a round Earth is somehow related to the faking of the Moon landing — is remarkably well-designed and professional-looking, eliminating some of the old hallmarks of disinformation on the internet. The ease of creating a website as clean as this one is a problem that has been well-documented by information scientists. As recently as five years ago, high schools were teaching that you could identify a disreputable source by its cheap-looking site, bad design, and messy URL. That no longer holds.
Digital newsrooms churn out coverage of flat Earth truthers using tools that make it easy to find stories bubbling up from the depths of Reddit. Here’s how it works: conspiracy theories get people fired up enough to comment promiscuously, bringing them to the front of Reddit where journalists see them, says The Verge’s editorial director Helen Havlak. When a reporter writes an explainer of a new oddball conspiracy theory, the sharing and hate commenting that drove the theory to the top of Reddit reoccurs on Facebook. And, if the post is coming from a generally reputable outlet or involves a celebrity (e.g., B.o.B. or Kyrie Irving) or a major news event (e.g., a presidential election), it can also get a boost into the Top Stories slot on Google News. “Newsrooms watch each other’s highest-performing stories,” Havlak says. It’s common practice to use a tool that lets newsrooms make lists of their competitors and monitor the popularity of their posts (on services like CrowdTangle, for example) to see what’s doing well for other outlets, and what might be a sure traffic bet if they could find a fresh angle or a reason to weigh in. “People see all the traffic to be had, and look for the next thing trickling up from Reddit,” she says. “Cycle repeats.”
It is perhaps belaboring the obvious to note that counting visitors to a loony-tunes web doesn’t necessarily translate to those people believing in whatever brand of nutballery the site espouses. However – the fact that a site exists is a pretty good indicator that the people who put the site up believe in that nutballery (parody and satire sites like the Landover Baptist Church aside).
Seriously, folks – Eratosthenes of Cyrene calculated the circumference of the planet thirty-four freakin’ centuries ago. This is hardly new stuff. Still – there are people about who believe all manner of stupid shit. When I was writing Misplaced Compassion, I was frequenting all sorts of Usenet (remember Usenet?) animal rights forums, and once encountered a nutbar who claimed to believe that there was a city of superhuman aliens hidden inside a dormant volcano in (where else?) California.
This is precisely as stupid as believing the Earth is flat. It’s funny and sad all at the same time.