Tom Usher went to a flat earth conference in Birmingham, England; he met an array of people who believe that the Earth is flat, because they believe that powerful people have conspired to control the information they receive in order to secure benefits for the elite, and this belief (which has a wealth of evidence to support it!) has been weaponized by crackpots and cynical manipulators to convince them the world is flat (despite the wealth of evidence against this!).
Usher's brief interviews with the attendees are perfect examples of the weaponized media literacy identified by danah boyd: using the idea that you should consider the incentives of a speaker when evaluating the truthfulness of their speech to push denialist messages about climate change and guns, but also flouride and the flat earth.
To get a sense of what this looks like in depth, check out Ross and Carrie's interview with flat earther Mark Sargent, which is some of the most chilling audio I've heard in the past year.
"It's been a positive—a massive one, really," explained another Steve, who became a flat earther after losing his job and being told by a job center to watch YouTube videos on how to be more employable. "I believe in myself again, rather than everything I've been told."
"You either allow it to change your life, or you live a lie," added Allegedly Dave, who now travels the world benevolently helping people out with their life problems. He believes climate change is a fraud, and in drinking your own urine. So how has the idea of flat Earth changed his life?
"There are no tangible changes you make—it's more mental," he explained, staring deep into my eyes. "The fear of things, like asteroids destroying the Earth, or space stations falling down… you know, it's bullshit, so it removes fear."
I Went to a Flat Earth Convention to Meet Flat Earthers Like My Mom [Tom Usher/Vice]
(Image: Jake Lewis)