Logan Paul’s satirical flat Earth doc gets to the heart of YouTube’s recommendation issue

Logan Paul's 50-minute satirical documentary that explores the conspiracy theories of the flat earth demonstrates how a person open to an idea can become indoctrinated to believe in something that is not real. Paul's video is completely funny, but the underlying parallels between his trip to the conspiracy theories of flat land and the way conspiracies are spread on YouTube are not.

Most of Paul's video takes place at the Flat Earth International Conference, a convention organized by Robbie Davidson, a "closed creationist" who describes himself and believes that God created a flat earth. In the legacy of his best friend, Paul goes from cabin to cabin, talking with the theoreticians about his beliefs. He begins his tour of the convention floor by mocking his theories, but at the end of the first day, and a conversation with a charismatic Davidson, he finds himself questioning everything. At the end of the documentary, after "falling in love" with a flat earth theorist and "coming out of the flat earth closet," Paul admits that conspiracy is the "stupidest thing" he has ever heard.

Seeing Paul absorb information is like seeing the YouTube recommendation algorithm in real time. He begins by learning about the theories of the flat earth as entertainment, but soon, he is flooded with conspiracy beliefs, with no experts in sight. Paul traveled to Colorado for the convention, but all the information presented is easily found on YouTube. The Davidson channel dedicated to promoting flat land conspiracy videos has more than 130,000 subscribers, and recommends other conspiracy theorists who were present at the convention.

YouTube has been accused of being a source of radicalization through the dissemination of erroneous information. The company has begun to address the spread by setting up data boxes and preventing some videos from appearing in the search, but popular videos can still send people into a conspiracy hole.

Part of the biggest problem

On average, people spend approximately 280 minutes a week watching YouTube, according to a 2017 report published by AdWeek. This may seem little compared to watching Netflix or playing video games, but a typical YouTube video is about 10 minutes. If someone is spending approximately 40 minutes a day watching YouTube videos, it's about four videos a day or 28 videos a week. It is a lot of information to take during a very short period of time.

This is especially true if people use YouTube for conspiracy theories. A study conducted in 2017 by Asheley Landrum at Texas Tech University surveyed 30 attendees of the Flat Earth International Conference that year and found that 29 people suggested that YouTube videos changed their opinions. The study, published by The Guardian also noted that most of the study group had previously seen conspiracy videos about "9/11, the shooting at Sandy Hook's school and whether NASA really went to the Moon ", before YouTube. Algorithm recommends flat land videos.

The fact that most of the study participants were watching other conspiracy theory videos should not be ignored, according to Joseph Uscinski, a professor at the University of Miami and a recognized expert on conspiracy theory. Uscinski said The Verge that people who believe in the conspiracy theories of the flat earth have to be predisposed to believe in "alternative facts." Someone can sit through a flat land conspiracy video out of curiosity, but it is unlikely that he ignores his previous beliefs, Uscinski said.

"The way in which that provision is developed is not completely known, and we have not had time to trace it," Uscinski said, adding that adequate research on conspiracy theories only existed for about a decade. "I would compare it to something like partisanship or political ideology. They are not the product of rational processes. "Instead of being a product of our socialization."

Most people are not looking for videos about the conspiracy theory for the pleasure of doing it, Uscinski said. They should be easily interested or at least open to the idea of ​​an alternative way of thinking. Even before the Internet, people were "getting all kinds of unbiased information from different sources," he said.

Still, Uscinski said search engines like Google and platforms like YouTube make it easy for people to find information or stumble upon it. It is imperative that experts have an authorized placement on these pages for that reason. People who are not predisposed to believe in contrary theories do not tend to suddenly dismiss prior knowledge just because they see a video, but for those who could, having adequate experts on hand is a good start to combat misinformation.

"You and I have to trust other experts," Uscinski said. "That's what it boils down to … are you willing to say:" There's no way I know these things. "I'm not an expert, and I'll trust an accredited expert to tell me these Things. "

The problem on a platform like YouTube is that each and every one can be presented as an expert.

A new genre of conspiracy

Conspiracy theories are increasingly easy for people to discover , especially when popular creators like Paul and Shane Dawson, who recently released a series of three-hour conspiracy theories on YouTube, pay more attention to the underlying themes. The entertainment disguise.

It's similar to what happens on other sites. , including Reddit, Facebook and Twitter Matt Schimkowitz, publisher of Know Your Meme, told The Verge that when memes and jokes spread from the flat land, it gives people with predisposed dispositions the op opportunity to deepen the theory.

"It can attract people who seek to believe in this kind of thing, look for things that confirm what they believe, like the government that wants to get them, scientists are lying to us, that kind of deal," Schimkowitz said. The Verge in 2017. "What starts out as an ironic thing eventually comes to people who are willing to accept it. From there you have a kind of conspiracy theories in every rule. Reach a new level. "

While one of Davidson's or other conspiracy videos can reach a couple of hundred thousand people, the documentary on Dawson's conspiracy theories has been viewed more than 60 million times. Although he points out that many of the theories in the video are just ideas, his claims may have led viewers to seek additional information.

The same goes for Paul's documentary. Although he is using it as a piece of satirical entertainment, he gives a scenario to conspiracy theorists. It's a perfect example of the gray area that exists on YouTube right now; the company is trying to fight well-known conspiracy theorists, such as InfoWars' Paul Joseph Watson, but the videos of more traditional YouTube artists like Dawson and Paul receive a strong promotion.

YouTube is rolling out some tools to help viewers distinguish between a conspiracy theory and a fact. The information tables, which are extracted from Wikipedia, will appear in videos on topics such as vaccination and the conspiracy theories of September 11. The Verge previously confirmed that YouTube does not have information boxes for flat land theories, but the company hopes to release them soon.

For now, Uscinski says it's up to parents and teachers to help teach children, those most likely to see Dawson and Paul, the kind of experts they should look for when they learn about a subject. Misinformation exists both online and offline, according to Uscinski, and helping children learn that the YouTube recommendation algorithm is not an expert is a good first step to combat the conspiracy theories that lay the foundations of knowledge . That also includes pointing out that neither Dawson nor Paul are experts in these matters.

"Everyone has an expert, but not all are real experts," Uscinski said. "We need to be better at labeling who is an adequate expert and who is not."

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