Indonesian space institute battles flat-earth believers

JAKARTA • Indonesia's National Institute of Aeronautics and Space (Lapan) is facing an age-old problem as it strives to achieve its goals to advance the country's technology and aeronautical field: flat-earth believers.

The group, which became a social media phenomenon last year, believes the earth is flat instead of round.

They often cite modern conspiracy theories, as well as literal, non-mainstream readings of the holy scriptures, as the basis of their statements.

Believers of the theory have been swarming Lapan's social media accounts for months, including a Facebook group of which the institution head Thomas Djamaluddin is a member.

Their only purpose: to challenge the fact that the earth is a sphere.

This has forced Mr Thomas to purge his Facebook group of any users that push this archaic point of view, by deleting their comments and blocking them from the group.

"This attempt is meant to (keep) the discussion useful for others to learn (about aeronautics and space). The fairy tale of a flat earth is a public duping attempt," Mr Thomas wrote in a post on Oct 9.

Lapan spokesman Christianus Dewanto said on Tuesday that he regretted the appearance of such challenging comments after Lapan had welcomed flat-earth believers to its offices for a discussion.

"The discussion was intense," he said.

He referred to a meeting between Mr Thomas and a representative from the Indonesian Flat Earth Society at Lapan's offices in Jakarta late last year.

First expressed during the time of the ancient Greeks, the flat-earth misconception has often reared its head over the centuries.

The latest reappearance occurred last year when many people posted videos on YouTube, in which they claimed that the concept of a round earth was part of a global conspiracy theory.

In Indonesia, the misconception has found its supporters, with the Facebook group Indonesian Flat Earth Society having attracted more than 20,500 members as of Tuesday.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 19, 2017, with the headline 'Indonesian space institute battles flat-earth believers'. Print Edition | Subscribe