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How the Internet Can Make Us More Gullible and Less Informed

Posted: 05/11/2013 1:00 am

The Internet is a bit of a mixed blessing. We are more informed than we used to be and can have the answers to questions at the click of a mouse rather than a perusal though microfiche and index cards with dewy decimal codes, but in a lot of ways, our reliance on the net for news is making us really lazy, and the laziness is leading to a false sense of intelligence and a spreading of false information that other people will rely on because they too are lazy and/or trusting.

Last week rumour spread like wildfire around Facebook that beloved and yet controversial brand Johnson & Johnson had their license pulled by the FDA. I probably saw it shared about eight times in two hours, including in one of my close-knit moms groups.

The news was shocking. J&J has for a while now, been facing criticism and suspicion for containing carcinogens. While many studies say that you'd have to bathe in vats of the stuff (not mixed with water, just the soap) for days, weeks or even years, before the load in the products would be of any risk to users, people everywhere still say it is a risky soap to use to and should be avoided. So if they had their license pulled by the FDA, surely it would be covered by all of the major news outlets.

But I couldn't find it anywhere. I looked and looked for major news sources to substantiate it. I looked at everything from CNN to the Toronto Star to the Mayo Clinic. Nothing.

At first I was only looking to find more news about it, but I slowly started realizing there wasn't any news at all.

Related: Are the Lives we Present on Facebook Real?

One friend, who also happens to be an Arbonne rep, posted the "news" to her wall saying, this is why I use Arbonne! It's safe! So I politely pointed out the news wasn't substantiated at all and that no news outlet had actually said the license had been pulled. The story that was circulating was dated three days prior. Certainly if it was true SOMEONE would have covered it by now!

Five minutes later she posted three links to prove it was "true."

One link was dated 2010, another 2011 and the last link was for a publication called the New Indian Express. All her link searching proved was two things. One, that people read news without reading the facts, including the year it was published, and two, that as it turns out it was the Maharastra Food and Drug Association in India had withdrawn J&J's license. Not the U.S. Food and Drug Association, as the lead of the story, which has since been edited, would have had readers believe.

Regardless of the fact that the news turned out to be wrong, or, at least irrelevant on this continent, my Arbonne-rep friend still used it as a platform to prove that J&J is evil and Arbonne is safe. Without debating whether or not Johnson & Johnson products can pose a risk to the long term health of our children, the reality is that this "news" wasn't news at all and proves that people are so quick to find substantiation for their cause that they rely on one source as gospel. It's the opposite of the Internet making us smarter. It's making us complacent, gullible and ill-informed.

It's where people go for self-diagnosis (let me save you the time Googling: whatever symptoms you are looking up, are indications for cancer. You're welcome) and where people go to find out who that guy who started in that movie was. We use the Internet to keep in touch and access information, but maybe people need to take a step back and look at the sources of information before they rely on it, believe it, and share it.

When it comes to the Internet, it's best not to trust the first source you see. Even if (or maybe especially) it's coming from a friend.

UPDATE: After contacting Johnson & Johnson Inc., we received the following statement from Shelley Kohut the Director Communications, Public Relations in Canada.

We would like to assure all of our consumers that the JOHNSON'S baby powder that was sold in India was safe and did not pose any health risk at any time. The regulatory authority in Maharashtra, India, raised questions about a sterilization process used on a small number of batches of baby powder for a brief time in 2007. All of the product in question expired in 2010. There were no adverse events or consumer complaints of any kind reported. We are working closely with the regulatory authority in India to resolve the issue. Canadian parents and caregivers can be assured that none of this product was sold outside of India.

Written by Leslie Kennedy for BabyPost.com

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