Alright, so I’m gazing over the Business Insider (BI), when this headline hits my eyes, “Strange Sex Fetish Leads To Pink Eye Epidemic In Japan.” Whoa! Does BI know how to sell a story or what? They had me sold in the first two words. I was all eyes for whatever BI reporter, Robert Ferris, was going to spell out next.
Well, he goes on to cite a report from Shanghaiist that says, “Japanese school children are licking each other's eyeballs as a form of sexual arousal.” Hmm. I’m not up on all the business literature so I’ve never really heard of Shanghaiist. It sounds reputable. I imagine it’s simply the noun form of the transitive verb shanghai, which if I look up in my trusty Webster’s dictionary just means “to put by trickery into an undesirable position.” So it all sounds good so far, right?
Wrong says Tokyo-based scribe, Mark Schreiber. Writing in the somewhat obscure Number 1 Shimbun, Schreiber pulls the lid back on the eye licking tale to reveal it as nothing more than a sordid hoax. He says that “it was not especially difficult to at least cast doubts on the sweeping claim that large numbers of Japanese adolescents were suffering from an epidemic of tongue-induced pink eye.”
The urban myth-buster from Tokyo no doubt dug deep into his reporter’s bag of tricks to get to the bottom of this story. Using some sort of journalistic communications device (perhaps a telephone) he went so far as to contact a couple of Japanese ophthalmological associations, a school clinicians’ organization and other medical professionals. “None of them had the faintest idea of what I was talking about,” Schreiber says. That just leads me to believe that BI and I may have been shanghaied on this story.
(Portions of this post have appeared in related MediaBugs reports filed by JT Cassidy.)
If you want a real eye-opener, take a look at "Lick This!" by Mark Schreiber and read how the tale of a fake fad made in Japan made its way into the pages of newspapers, magazines, and more all around the world.
Also see: "In the Public Eye" on Snopes.com
Related MediaBugs reports (the same error repeated over and over again):
Exploding a Media Myth (TNT); Poke in the Eye (The New Age); Weird Science (Science World Report); A Funny Sounding Story (AOL News); Fox Takes Eye off Eyeball Story (Fox 29 News, Philadelphia) Eye Network Loses Sight of Facts (CBS Atlanta); In the Shadow of Doubt (Toronto Sun); The Hot Trend That's Not (PIX 11 News, New York); Houston We Have a Problem (KRIV-TV, Fox 26 in Houston, Texas); The Spread (Houston Chronicle); Seeing Eye to Eye (Huffington Post/UK edition); Eye Witless News Report (ABC News); UPI Out of Focus (United Press International); Another Code Brown! (Medical Daily); Entertaining... Licks Telling the News (ABC2 News, WMAR-TV, Baltimore); Didn't Get the Memo (New Zealand Herald); Here is the Thing (MSN News Canada) Fatal Error (CTV News Canada); Time to Correct? (Time Magazine); More Than Meets the Eye (New York Post); A Cock-eyed Story (New York Daily News); Faking It (Syracuse.com/The Post-Standard); Bucking the Trend That Wasn't (The Times of India); If You Can't Lick 'Em Join 'Em (Fox News); Not a Lick of Truth (The Telegraph); Eye Network Lacks Nose for Fishy Stories (CBS News); Calling Out the Daily Caller (The Daily Caller); Code Brown (Medical News Today); Gawk at This! (Gawker); Not a Thing (The San Francisco Chronicle); Less Than Meets the Eye (The Guardian); A Blind Eye to the Truth (Huffington Post); Falling for a Fake Story... (The Washington Times)
Disappeared (story deleted by news org.):
Faking It (Syracuse.com/The Post-Standard)
Business Insider reporter, Robert Ferris, got back to me straight away to thank me and let me know that BI had updated its story as follows:
"UPDATE: This story seems to be untrue.
Tokyo-based writer, Mark Schreiber, contacted eye doctors in Japan, who had never heard of such a thing.
Kudos to Business Insider and writer Robert Ferris for correcting the story and setting the record straight. Thanks!
UPDATE (8/20/2013 9:03am JST)
The correction now reads:
"CORRECTION: This story has been disproven here: