Inside the Flat Earth conference, where the world’s oldest conspiracy theory is hot again

“August 2015,” Ginny, a California woman tells me. That’s when a friend forwarded her a video series on Flat Earth. “I spent like three nights wide awake and then I was hooked.”

This is the real currency in the Flat Earth community. Between speeches, everyone is showing each other YouTube videos on their phones. People reference each other by their YouTube names, and twice when I leave my seat I return to find advertisements for YouTube channels on the chair. A panel on Women in Flat Earth is more of a how-to on running a Flat Earth YouTube channel while female.

YouTube wants you watching videos, as many as possible, for as long as possible. It’s the rare conspiracy on which conference-goers and I are in complete agreement. In order to maximize views, the Google-owned video giant recommends videos based on those you already watched. Videos with attention-grabbing titles and hot-button keywords often turn up high in the recommendation algorithm. Start watching videos for less extreme conspiracy theories like 9/11 trutherism or moon landing hoaxes, and YouTube will eventually recommend you a Flat Earth video.

Conference speaker Joshua Swift tells me a popular Flat Earth video “woke him up” to the movement. “It came on autoplay,” he says. “So I didn’t actively search for Flat Earth. Even months before, I was listening to Alex Jones.”