Takeaways from a Few Hours Spent in a Flat Earth Discord Server

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July 28, 2020

(5 min read)

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“Any of the globe heads wanna give more arguments?” an anonymous man taunted in the voice chat as I scrolled through the chatroom. I ignored the challenge, continuing to browse through the various channels and ‘resources’ in the 24/7 Flat Earth 2.0 server. In addition to the voice chat, there were several other channels for different discussions as well as content sharing. I browsed through some of the content: The Tesla car in space was just a fake. Water levels are flat so the ocean must be flat too. A 500-meter laser test proved there was no curvature.

One brave ‘globehead’ responded. “Alright, let’s talk about gravity,” he said.

“You mean the theory of gravity,” countered the Flat-Earther.

“Yes, sure, the theory of gravity,” said the glober, who was actually belonged to a visiting party. I, an enthusiastic earth science nerd, had been attending an earth science camp at the time, and much enjoyed the friendly community of other aspiring scientists. During an online discussion, a group of people planned to “raid” the flat earth server, and I decided to join the excursion. Perhaps I could learn something new, I thought, ready to take notes on some intellectual discourse.

Instead, my eyes glazed over as the flat-earthers began to tunnel the argument into a semantic debate over the definition of ‘theory’. Then they started arguing about what exactly the scientific method was, claiming that anyone who ‘had it wrong’ could not make any valid claims. I assumed they were used to stalling time or completely avoiding actual arguments by driving the focus away into unrelated topics.

“The theory of relativity is a lie!” one claimed. My eyebrows raised. “Isaac Newton never proposed a theory in his life!” another asserted. “The moon is fake!” I was blown back by these bold statements. Then, there was a bit of dispute as one Flat-Earther felt he wasn’t given enough speaking time by the other Flat-Earthers. When they finally gave him the floor, he didn’t know where to start, saying “I can talk about a lot of things. V2 rockets, NASA, the atmos…” (Yes, they called the atmosphere the “atmos” because they refused to acknowledge that it was a sphere...)

*facepalm*

As I listened to more arguments, such as how gravity could only point in one direction, or how missile trajectories didn’t account for the Coriolis effect, I began to realize that these people had been heavily indoctrinated - by themselves. By consuming and feeding each other obscure sources from dark corners of the internet, they had actually become decently well versed in science(albeit some distorted version of scientific consensus) in order to prepare a response for any sort of attack.

This, in my opinion, is just one example of the greatest problem facing our country today. The rampant culture of tribalism has swept over all parts of the political spectrum, and basically anything else that puts people on different sides. As a result, beliefs polarize in isolated groups, wherein people in agreement reinforce each other and vehemently attack the “enemy”. In these echo chambers, people find their identity in being on one side of the conflict. In the worst cases, some groups of people can’t even recognize those with opposing views as human beings.

Another question many have about this community is: why? Why do Flat-Earthers seclude themselves and become outcasts of society for a conspiracy? One member shared how he even lost his job over his belief in a flat Earth, which I found unnecessary-unless he was a science teacher! Why would they believe over a hundred organizations have collaborated to lie to them about the shape of the Earth? The answer lay in the server, unsurprisingly in the form of a meme.



I found the reasoning rather ridiculous. It’s not like everybody isn’t already asking most of these questions. Who made it? Some people believe in a God, others don’t, and yet others reasonably suggest that we may as well be living in a computer simulation. Still - is God incapable of creating a globe, or writing law of physics that Newton and Einstein would discover? And if we live in a simulation, aren’t there too many signs that the Earth, though simulated, is still round?

In any case, I finally decided to join the conversation. Switching to the ‘debate’ text channel, I asked a few questions: Are stars flat? If gravity only points in one direction why haven’t all the planets fallen? Why hasn’t anyone flown over the edge? In my opinion, those were pretty legit questions. However, I soon received a ban for “cognitive dissonance” - having conflicting thoughts - and was unable to access the chat or call any further. No matter how much I pleaded with the mod that I was actually very open-minded, I would be unable to engage in any more intellectual discussion in this delightful community.

The internet is supposed to be a place where one can be exposed to new ideas, and the wealth of information available can only be correctly be approached with an open mind. It is the constant discussion, legitimate disagreements, and relentless pursuit of the truth that separates the scientific community from elaborate conspiracies. If one begins their own quest for knowledge, in combination with a bit of trust here or there in the good intention of most people, they’ll find satisfaction in being able to participate in humanity’s boldest undertaking - making sense of the universe around us. Because that’s what globeheads do.

Enoch Luk

@enochcluk

​Machine Learning/Data Science/ Computer Science enthusiast and project creator. SciBowl A-Teamer and SciOly captain who avidly pursues science from meteorology to chemistry to physics. Member of the US Earth Science Organization's national camp. Also a passionate volunteer and active member of the community. Interested in the great potential of fields like data and AI to do good, such as eliminating bias and misinterpretation in data collection and computer vision or combating climate change with smart systems. ​

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