Eyeball licking story is fake, indicative of poor journalism

I’m very happy to hear this tale was NOT true. It was quite disgusting. We didn’t do a story on this at the time but now we can post that it’s fakety fake. not an epidemic as reported.

In mid-June, many web sites published the story about a new fad in Japan – eyeball licking. It was hard for us to wrap our heads around this. It was gross and could spread disease and, besides, WHAT THE HELL? But, we’ve heard some pretty strange stuff coming out of Japan.

LICK THIS!.

“The craze is sweeping through Japan at an alarming rate, causing pink eye and is a hit among 12-year-olds who are taking it as the next level after French kissing.” So wrote reporter Victory Oyeleke in the June 16 edition of the Nigerian Tribune, with an air of righteous certainty.

Oyeleke had not filed from Japan.

Neither had the journalist who wrote, “Surge in eye infections among Japanese youngsters due to sexual eyeball-licking trend” (Washington Times, June 13); nor “Eyeball-licking: the fetish that is making Japanese teenagers sick” (The Guardian, June 14); or “Japanese ‘eyeball licking’ trend carries blindness risk” (CBS News, June 14); or “Japanese craze for eyeball licking leads to rise in infections” (The Telegraph, June 17).

The original source of the story, the sole witness, was an anonymous teacher at a primary school in Tokyo who said that an epidemic of pink eye at his school could be traced to eyeball licking among students. It was an urban legend in its creation stage.

This comprehensive article reveals how the story spread, thanks to social media. And even though it sounded too weird to be true, we all love to pass on such stories, MAYBE with a disclaimer that it might not be true. But, who remembers that part?

No news outlet tried to confirm it. They used the excuse that it was a syndicated story, they just reprinted it, as if to shirk off any responsibility.

Now, we are NOT journalists here. This site is a news aggregate and place for media critique and the promotion of skeptical attitudes towards the news. As just basically two volunteers in our spare time doing this work, there is no way we can do investigations into dubious news. But SOMEONE should. That’s their job! But now I’m mad at myself for not trusting my first instinct to scoff at the story. Maybe the safest bet is just NOT trust the news at all.

(Addition: To clarify, this DOES exist but does it exist because of a mention of it existing and has this myth that it’s prevalent MAKING it prevalent? What it wasn’t, apparently, was all that widespread. Something tells me it might be now.)

Hindsight is 20/20.

Tip: @krelnik on Twitter (Tim Farley)

  10 comments for “Eyeball licking story is fake, indicative of poor journalism

  1. August 4, 2013 at 3:52 PM

    If forehead bageling is a thing, we can be forgiven for thinking that eyeball licking is a thing.

  2. August 4, 2013 at 3:59 PM

    I’m just amazed at how many skeptics I know reposted this was REAL.

  3. Peebs
    August 4, 2013 at 4:22 PM

    I heard of Olictulolintus years ago and it baffles me as much as autoeroticism.
    How the hell did they discover that these acts heightened sexual pleasure?
    Pink Eye would seem to have an altogether different cause and I’ll let you lot google it!

    I think I should be more selective in my girlfriends.

    Or not!

  4. Chris Howard
    August 4, 2013 at 6:48 PM

    WTF Japan. WTF!

  5. August 4, 2013 at 6:53 PM

    To be fair, it’s not that it is not “REAL,” only that it is 1) just badly sourced, 2) not as widespread as people thought. It may technically be right. Just saying.

  6. August 5, 2013 at 9:15 AM

    I remember seeing a Manga novel in the 80’s where one of the characters had an eyeball-licking obsession. Can’t remember the title.

  7. August 6, 2013 at 8:45 AM

    After reading “Lick This!” I decided to contact a few of the media outlets, who covered the fake fad, via MediaBugs.org in hopes they might correct their stories. So far the Huff Post has responded (here: http://mediabugs.org/bugs/a-blind-eye-to-the-truth). I’m still waiting on the Guardian and Wash Times to weigh in but I won’t hold my breathe. I hope others might consider filing their own reports via the MediaBugs site (anyone can) in reference to any one of the scores of similar stories just to see if any of the news sites reporting on this phony phenomenon care about setting the record straight.

  8. August 6, 2013 at 11:53 AM

    I remember seeing this story and thinking there was something dubious about it. For one thing it has many of the hallmarks of a typical moral panic: “look at the dangerous, crazy new trend among kids today!” In my mind it’s very similar to the media-hyped threat of “sack tapping,” the dangerous trend sweeping schools across the country in which boys kick or punch each other in the balls. I wrote about this for Discovery News a while ago: http://news.discovery.com/human/health/sack-tapping-parents-threat-du-jour.htm.

  9. Mark Schreiber
    August 6, 2013 at 8:16 PM

    The thing to keep in mind here is that the source of the eyeball licking story was a subculture publisher that has been in regular trouble with the Japanese police on charges of obscenity (as recently as April of this year) and child pornography. It was highly irresponsible for Naver Matome, which is run by a large, multinational IT company, to post the story on its Japanese blog. Webmasters are not and probably never will be journalists, and their motives for posting contents go beyond dissemination of serious news.

  10. August 8, 2013 at 7:16 AM

    The Huff Post has updated its eyeball licking story to include a quote from Mark Schreiber’s FCCJ magazine article and a statement saying that the part of its article in reference to Japan “may be a hoax.” I guess that update makes the Huff Post one in a million.

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