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What we can learn from Moon Landing Guy (other than the Earth is flat)

If you’ve walked past Armstrong in the past month, chances are you’ve seen a man with a posterboard who proclaims the moon landings were faked. This man — dubbed ‘Moon Landing Guy’ by the student body — has handed out dozens of flat-earther stickers and cards with ‘resources’ that prove his conspiracies. 

According to him, the earth is a dome, Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” proves NASA lies to the American people, Bigfoot teleports and the COVID-19 vaccine is a slow-burning poison. 

Whenever I see Moon Landing Guy on campus, he’s always surrounded by a flock of students. Some pretend to agree with his theories for comedy’s sake. Others try to start arguments. 

Personally, I asked him his thoughts on Bigfoot. 

Regardless of whether you stop by his posterboard or put your earbuds in and ignore him, nearly everybody is aware when Moon Landing Guy is back on campus because his activism is unforgettably bizarre.

Free speech on college campuses is protected by the First Amendment. Often, displays of free speech — guest speakers, political activism, student protests — raise awareness for social issues, foster cross-cultural understanding, and educate students. For instance, in April 2021, a group of students organized a protest against systemic racism and police brutality to call attention to issues affecting the Black community.

However, when our campus is visited by demonstrators, like Moon Landing Guy, it’s natural to question if all free speech is truly constructive. Though every American has the right to speak freely, should we have conspiracy theorists and disillusioned extremists speaking directly to college students? Does factually untrue information really contribute to cross-cultural understanding and awareness?

It is easy to dismiss individuals like Moon Landing Guy as lone actors. However, in the age of the Internet, conspiracy theories have spread like wildfire. According to the Public Religion Research Institute, 15% of Americans believe in the QAnon allegation that the U.S. government is infiltrated with Satanist pedophiles who run a child sex-trafficking institution.

These people are our neighbors, teachers, uncles, and grandparents. These are people we go to church with. These are our classmates. 

Moon Landing Guy’s demonstrations show us how conspiracism has taken over sects of the American people. From capitol insurrectionists to Twitter personalities to street-corner demonstrators, conspiracists spread misinformation to new audiences every day.

For our generation, misinformation is more than just a moral issue; it’s a public health issue. A climate issue. A safety issue. If people can be manipulated into believing the moon landing was faked or an election was stolen, what does that do for the state of our democracy? What happens when there’s generations of children raised by parents who believe the government operates a pedophile ring?

As Miamians, the Code of Love and Honor tells us to “stand for honesty, integrity, and the importance of moral conduct.” Despite our campus’s commitment to upholding truth, our student body is still not immune to misinformation. In the wake of the recent COVID-19 vaccine mandate, there are still students who claim the COVID-19 vaccine is unsafe or a form of government tracking. 

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As the leaders of the next generation, we have a moral and societal obligation to combat misinformation on campus.

But how?

Free speech is a complex issue, especially when misinformation is involved. On one hand, every American has the right to free speech, which includes the right to stand on the steps of Armstrong Student Center and tell random freshmen that our flat earth is surrounded by a glass dome ceiling. However, we also have the right to speak the truth and disprove dishonesty.

There’s plenty of ways students can promote truth and democracy on campus. From sharing fact-based resources on social media to attending lectures and advocacy events right here on campus, every student can play a role in mitigating the impact misinformation has on society. Even something as little as fact-checking or cross-referencing a news headline before you start repeating it can help mitigate the spread of conspiratorial thinking.

And to anyone who thinks it’s too much work to speak up about misinformation: if Moon Landing Guy has it in him to stand outside and get dunked on by students for six hours straight, you have it in you to correct that one friend who gets all their political talking points from unverified Twitter accounts.