The flat Earth conspiracy: who started it and why did it ever become a thing?

    If this is not your first time on the Internet, you probably know that a concerning amount of people believes that the Earth is not a globe, as scientists had proven, but a disc.

    You might have heard of these people: they are called flat-Earthers. While the specific aspects of the conspiracy they believe are not set in stone and they vary, their core belief is that the Earth is, in fact, a flat disc. Who started this conspiracy – and more importantly, why did it ever gain so much track?

    Where the flat Earth conspiracy started

    The history of the flat Earth conspiracy theory is long and interesting, as Today I Found Out shows. The theory has its origins in the 19th century, when Samuel Rowbotham from London, England, became convinced that the Earth was flat. Rowbotham had dropped out of school at the age of 9. As time went, he became convinced not only that the Earth was flat, but also that the stars, Moon and Sun were only a few thousand miles away from Earth.

    As absurd as his beliefs were, Robatham was a charismatic and convincing speaker. He could twist the words in his favour even when dealing with the best academics and scientists. While his arguments had no scientific base, his compelling speeches had been enough to plant the seed of doubt in the hearts of a few people. He started the Zetetic Society – a society that advocated for a flat Earth.

    By the time the 20th century rolled in, the Zetetic Society had faded into oblivion. However, in 1956, Samuel Shenton, from Dover, UK, stumbled upon the works of the Universal Zetetic Society and found them fascinating. This way, Shenton decided to establish the International Flat Earth Research Society.

    His timing couldn’t have been worse. When pictures of the Earth taken from space with the help of satellites began to appear, offering visual proof of the real shape of the Earth, Shenton refused to believe the pictures were real, stating that “it’s easy to see how a photograph like that could fool the untrained eye”.

    By 1972, the membership of the International Flat Earth Research Society had dropped from 3.000 to 100. That was the year Samuel Shenton died and Charles Johnson from California, USA, took over. He re-branded the organization, naming it the International Flat Earth Research Society of America. Johnson claimed that the world’s governments and scientists were trying to convince people that the Earth is a globe with the ultimate purpose of getting rid of religion.

    Why the flat Earth conspiracy keeps coming back

    The society grew again, reaching 3.500 members. However, a fire destroyed the headquarters back in 1997, destroying part of the records of membership. When Johnson died in 2001, the organization seemed to have died with him – but in 2004, a man named Daniel Shenton created a discussion forum for flat-Earthers. In 2009, the conspiracy theory even had its own site – from that point on, the theory gained track, helped by the rise of social media.

    Nowadays, it seems almost eerie to believe that there are people out there who straight up refuse to believe the mountain of scientific evidence that proves the Earth is a sphere. However, it shouldn’t exactly come as a surprise. A 2019 study from Pew Research Center has proven that the fake news phenomenon is thriving thanks to social media.

    The reasons why a concerning number of people believe in these theories goes even deeper than social media. As psychologist Karen Douglas from University of Kent explains in a 2017 study, one of the reasons people decide to trust conspiracies has to with narcissism. Let’s take our flat-Earthers, for instance: they are convinced the world is split into two categories: the good guys (basically anyone who believes the Earth is flat) and the bad guys (the world’s governments, scientists, NASA). They feel as if they belong to the ‘good guys’ team, which in return helps them feel more self-confident.

    Photo – Youtube

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