This “beards” story was full of crap: Why you couldn’t resist sharing it

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.

No need for men to get flush-faced about faeces in beards.

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.

Eww! I don't care how clean their beards are. This guys are icky. Phil Robertson and Willie Robertson of Duck Dynasty.

Eww! I don’t care how clean their beards are, these guys are icky. Phil Robertson and Willie Robertson of Duck Dynasty.

  8 comments for “This “beards” story was full of crap: Why you couldn’t resist sharing it

  1. terry the censor
    May 5, 2015 at 6:24 PM

    So I can stop putting my beard in the dishwasher every night?

  2. RandyRandy
    May 5, 2015 at 8:28 PM

    Maybe I’m missing some cultural aspect here… but how would this even be possible? Dudes are using their beards as toilet paper? Simply more gross-out clickbait…

  3. BobM
    May 6, 2015 at 1:48 AM

    My beard goes in the shower every day with me. So I figured it was crap :-). Mind you, MythBusters did show that there were faecal coliform bacteria everywhere.

  4. Jan Erik
    May 6, 2015 at 3:19 AM

    I’m more worried about the toothbrush…

  5. Russian Skeptic
    May 7, 2015 at 11:54 AM

    Well, Peter the Great would have been happy to have this story during his anti-beard campaign 🙂

  6. May 11, 2015 at 11:29 AM

    This beard fear story popped up on my CNN newsfeed app this weekend. Nobody seems to wonder why beards would be significantly more poopy than a head of hair.

  7. Sam
    May 14, 2015 at 7:18 PM

    I think another thing that may have played a role, is that many people don’t like facial hair at all, and suddenly felt justified in their hatred for beards.

  8. iamTheSnark
    May 15, 2015 at 1:28 AM

    That, my friend, is well put. You should. How many people do you know who always wash their hands before they start brushing their teeth? Where do you find more abundant bacteria colonies, in a beard or on (your) hands? And do you want these friendly/not so friendly bacteria all over your toothbrush? In your mouth? Of course not.
    So yes, I would say you are right.

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