Flat Earthers: Social Data on The Wildest Conspiracy Theory Yet Topic Analysis

By Natalie Meehan on August 8th 2017

Today in Conspiracy Theory Corner (not a thing) I’m here to talk to you about ‘Flat Earthers.’

When I was growing up I believed anything and everything my parents told me. They told me that if you stuck your finger inside your belly button, your butt would fall off.

My dad told me a number of wild and gregarious stories about aliens, about the moon landings actually being staged inside an aircraft hangar somewhere in the Midwest, and educated me on the various theories on the assassination of JFK. Last year, in return, I got to teach him about chemtrails. I’ve never been so proud.

One thing my parents never told me, though, was that the Earth is actually flat. That’s right!

Not, in fact, the globe you’ve come to know as the good and correct shape of the Earth, but flat. Like a pancake.

This is one of the latest conspiracy theories blowing up the internet, and due to my upbringing, I’m naturally drawn to such bold claims.

Understanding the theory

Before jumping into data around Flat Earthers, it’s worth quickly explaining what the Flat Earth movement actually is. Here’s how the Daily Mail summarized it:

  • Flat Earthers deny the earth is round and believe the whole concept is an elaborate conspiracy
  • They reject proven scientific evidence, NASA’s photographs and video, as well as basic common sense and choose to believe the Earth is flat, and surrounded by a giant, heavily-policed ice wall
  • The movement, led by Californian Nathan Thompson, 31, also believe that gravity is just an unproven theory
  • It has attracted tens of thousands of followers including a number of celebrity adherents, such as rapper B.o.B., former reality TV star Tila Tequila and basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal
  • Experts believe certain people are attracted to the theory because the (false) belief they know something the rest of the world does not can make them feel superior.

And here’s how basketball star Shaquille O’Neal summarized it:

It’s true. The Earth is flat. The Earth is flat. Yes, it is. Listen, there are three ways to manipulate the mind — what you read, what you see and what you hear.

In school, first thing they teach us is, ‘Oh, Columbus discovered America,’ but when he got there, there were some fair-skinned people with the long hair smoking on the peace pipes. So, what does that tell you?

Columbus didn’t discover America. So, listen, I drive from coast to coast, and this s*** is flat to me. I’m just saying. I drive from Florida to California all the time, and it’s flat to me. I do not go up and down at a 360-degree angle, and all that stuff about gravity, have you looked outside Atlanta lately and seen all these buildings? You mean to tell me that China is under us? China is under us? It’s not. The world is flat.

Got it? Great. Let’s get into it.

Flat Earth vs Round Earth: It’s a thing

Is everything we’ve every been taught about the world on which we live an out-and-out deception? Is the apparent curvature of the Earth merely an optical illusion? Is there something in what Shaq’s saying?

Luckily I have access to millions of conversations online (through Brandwatch Analytics), so I decided to explore what people are discussing online about the earth being flat, versus being round.

Before getting stuck into the data, I thought I’d ask my team what they thought.

flat earth's

 

To broaden the scope beyond five marketers, I set a date range of two months for the query looking for people talking about the Earth being flat on social media, and using Audiences looked for people self-identifying as a ‘Flat Earther.’

Here’s what I found.

Demographics of Flat Earthers

If you identify as a Flat Earther in your Twitter bio, you’re much more likely to be male than female.

As you can see below in the graph taken from Audiences, people identifying as Flat Earthers online are mainly based in the US or the UK, with Canada in third place.

The grey line shows the Twitter average, so you can see whether this audience is over- or under-indexing in comparison to the average.

Perhaps surprisingly, 15% of people who identify as Flat Earthers on Twitter are categorized as a ‘Scientist or Researcher’ – massively over-indexing on the Twitter average.

4% identify as a teacher or lecturer.

A bio keyword cloud shows that Flat Earthers also have a strong link to religion – and they’re proud of their views.

Bonus chart: Correlation does not imply causation

Or does it? Are magicians peddling a secret Flat Earth agenda?

flat earthers and magicians


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Some fiery, red hot takes

Part of the fun of playing with social data is being able to go deep into the mentions and find ‘interesting’ posts on any given subject.

Here were some of my favourites.

Sure.

Let’s hope not, EVILMTN!

Creig has a point, to be honest.

Flat Earthers are everywhere. Sometimes they’re even ‘verified’ on Twitter.

 

Let’s close with some wise words from actual real-life scientist, and “part time astrophysicist, full time savage” Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Do you think the Earth is flat? Or do you think the planet is, in fact, a giant pizza? Wake up, sheeple!

Are you a journalist looking to cover our data? Email us at react@brandwatch.com for more information.


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Natalie Meehan

@Natalie_KateM

Natalie has worked in marketing for a decade, and is the Head of Content and Social at Brandwatch. She'll put an egg on almost anything.