Over the years, I have written about a lot of so-called “conspiracy theories.” Many are not “theoretical” at all, and are covering up truths that need to be exposed. Others are less credible, but still thought-provoking. And then, there are still others that stretch the very fabric of reality.
This one falls squarely into that last category. Did you know that there are certain conspiracy theorists that insist that the countries of Finland and Australia do not exist!!
These theories have been circulating on social media since at least 2006. As far as Australia goes, you would’ve thought that kangaroos, Chris Hemsworth, Steve Irwin, and AC/DC’s classic discography constitute adequate proof that the country of Australia does indeed exist. But it turns out not everyone is so convinced the Land Down Under is real.
The conspiracy theory that Australia doesn’t exist has gone viral again recently, breathing new life into an old meme that has circulated on the internet since Napster and MySpace was still a thing. It was way back in 2006 that the Flat Earth Society exposed an “imaginary land” enforced by “really secret government agents”, and the conspiracy has raised its head again this month, causing great surprise, amusement, and outrage among the 25 million people who’ve been told that the place they live is totally make-believe.
The basic theory is that Britain invented the convict colony of Australia as an excuse to execute tens of thousands of prisoners—162,000, to be precise—under the guise of transporting them to this faraway territory. Today, everyone is in on the prank, right down to the airline pilots ferrying tourists to decoy islands and the actors playing the part, like some real-life version of The Truman Show.
Shelley Floryd, a Swedish Facebook user whose page recently breathed new life into this theory, wrote in a post, “If you think you’ve ever been to Australia, you’re terribly wrong. The plane pilots are all in on this, and have in all actuality only flown you to islands close nearby–or in some cases, parts of South America, where they have cleared space and hired actors to act out as real Australians.”
Australia is not the only place that the internet and social media experts claim does not actually exist. Also high on the list is Finland, the country some believe lies between Russia and Sweden, and that allegedly fought a valiant rearguard action against Soviet invasion in the run-up to the Second World War. This theory was also born on social media, this time in 2015. Finland, according to a Reddit user, was merely a fictional creation designed to create fishing quotas to aid the export of sushi to Japan from Russia.
The joke – or painstakingly well-evidenced and argued theory – that a country or region doesn’t exist turns out to be one of the oldest memes on the internet. As early as 1993, German users of Usenet – a network of online discussion forums (or bulletin boards), which predates the web – had a running joke that the Westfalian town of Bielefeld (population 300,000, funnily enough) was a fiction maintained by the CIA, Mossad, aliens or some combination of the three.
The joke has crossed decades, online platforms, language barriers, and international cultures, and keeps coming back. “The beauty of memes is that they are malleable and everyone can have their own spin on things and get involved in the joke,” says a writer for UK’s, The Guardian, Mollie Goodfellow. “I think it says that we all like to be in on the joke, especially online, where often different cliques and subgroups can form.”
In these days of fake news and mainstream-media conspiracies, though, it doesn’t do to take anything for granted – so according to Goodfellow, The Guardian contacted a diplomatic source, who agreed to speak off the record and confirm what they could about the existence (or otherwise) of Finland and Australia.
“Hang on, let me look out the window,” the source replied, before confirming Finland existed.
The source was unable to provide similar confirmation for Australia.