With the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing this weekend, you might have Googled the event or typed it into YouTube’s search bar. If so, you might have found a few suggestions — including “The Truth Behind The Moon Landings” (about a million views) as well as related searches like “moon landing fake” and “moon landing hoax proof.”
Skeptics and deniers of the 1969 landing have existed for decades — although it’s hard to pin how many. And recent polls found that younger generations are far more skeptical about the mission than their older counterparts. A 2004 survey by the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration concluded that among Americans between ages 18 and 24 “27% expressed doubts that NASA went to the Moon.” A similar YouGov poll in the UK earlier this year found that 21 percent of 24- to 35-year-olds believe the landing was staged, compared with 13 percent of participants over age 55.
According to NASA spokesman Sean Potter, when conspiracy theorists doubt the authenticity of the Moon landings despite all the evidence that NASA landed 12 astronauts on the moon between 1969 and 1972, “they probably also should ask why they question the landings in the first place.”
It’s difficult to pinpoint why millennials seem disproportionately skeptical about the lunar missions. The 1969 landing happened more than a decade before the oldest in our generation were born. So is it a sense of being removed from the experience? Or can it be chalked up to a larger distrust of government and institutions? After all, we saw a sitting president lie under oath and we grew up with the backdrop of a war not about terrorism, but oil. And in recent years we’ve also seen some childhood stars, priests and entertainment executives, unmasked for who they were. Perhaps, some of this skepticism can be attributed to the wildfire of misinformation all too easily spread online.
Most attribute the creation of the moon-hoax conspiracy theory to Bill Kaysing, who wrote “We Never Went to the Moon” in 1976. But while Kaysing self-published ideas that were seen by relatively few people initially, today’s Apollo 11 deniers can propagate their thoughts to millions online in mere moments.
Most, if not all, of the most popular social media platforms have come under fire for what many see as lax monitoring of false and dangerous content. But, notably, many of these sites have made adjustments to their algorithms and policies. On the YouTube video mentioned earlier, for example, there is an information panel that links to Encyclopaedia Britannica’s page on the Apollo 11 mission. This is “to give users more sources where they can fact check information for themselves,” according to a YouTube spokesperson. Reddit says it’s revamped its quarantine function, which uses warning labels that prevent content that some may deem “highly offensive or upsetting” from being stumbled upon accidentally. Facebook, too, has pointed to its efforts to “fight the spread of false news.”
But maybe it’s wise to not read too much into the polls. After all, a 2013 survey by Public Policy Polling found that 4 percent of Americans thought “shape-shifting reptilian people control our world by taking on human form and gaining political power to manipulate our societies.”
Yeji Jesse Lee is an intern with Newsday Opinion.