There was this news story: Some beards as dirty as toilets. And it riled people up causing them to share many and various links with pictures of beards. Well, it was crap.
According to multiple news sites, beards can contain more poo than a toilet.
However, as far as I can tell there was no proper study, no team of microbiologists and no poo in beards. The origin of the story appears to be this segment from a TV news network in New Mexico, which involved a reporter swabbing a “handful” of men’s beards and then sending the swabs to a microbiologist in a lab to culture any microbes present.
The reporter then interviewed the microbiologist, John Golobic, who identified a few of the bacteria present as “enterics”, that is they are bacteria that normally live in the intestines.
And that’s all. Somehow, from this story other media organisations have managed to get poo in beards.
Snopes debunked the piece as well: Did a Study Find ‘Men’s Beards Are Filled with Poop’?
But here at DN, we try to give you a little bit more. Why did this story and so many other revolting or ridiculous stories get so much milage on social media?
It turns out we have a habit of wanting to share disgusting stories, it makes us feel like we belong. Research supports the idea that we are more willing to share such tales even if they don’t even sound true.
Researchers Chip Heath, Chris Bell, and Emily Sternberg decided to test how far people would go in passing on disgusting anecdotes, no matter how far-fetched. They chose twelve disgusting urban legends and altered them to be either more or less revolting. In one example, the story of a man finding a dead rat at the bottom of his glass of soda was made more nauseating by having him ingest bits of the animal. The less repulsive version had the man notice a bad smell and spot the rat before drinking the soda. The results showed that people were far more likely to share the most disgusting account of a story, even if the tale was truly repulsive. The researchers found similar results when they looked at the most popular stories on websites that specialized in urban legends. The more disgusting a story, the more likely it was to be distributed online.
The more intense the story is, the more we want to share it. Researchers think that the strong emotions provoked by disgust compel us to share with others to compare reactions and to confirm or establish what is socially acceptable. Makes sense. But I still hate it. Even though grossed out false stories may be too crazy to believe, some people WILL believe it. Since it gets shared so widely, it reaches a larger proportion of gullible people. While pushing the envelope in culture can often be a good thing to acclimate people to uncomfortable ideas, it isn’t always for the best.