Does that “wow” Internet stat pass the 3-minute credibility test?

This year, I’m trying not to be so gullible about things I read, then pass on. There is so much misinformation out on the Web that I don’t want to inadvertently add to it. Like journalists of old, I’m taking time to fact-check sources on the Internet stats that come across in blog posts, web pages and social media, because there seems to be more and more of these.

Today, for example this Internet stat came my way in a LinkedIn Daily Digest:

4.8 billion people now own mobile phones. Just 4.2 billion own a toothbrush. (Mindjumpers)

When I searched to find out who Mindjumpers was and this specific Internet stat, their page had very colorful infographics, and buried on the page was a line that cited this stat as ‘general social media statistics, 2012’.  No linked source that cited a study, so I again searched using Google to find out where the toothbrush-counting researchers worked their magic.  15 minutes later, the only things I could find in abundance were several other sites that either went back to Mindjumpers or did not cite a source. So where did this tidbit come from?  My answer is, who cares. It’s no longer credible when you can’t find a clear source in three minutes of searching.

There are way too many of us (I’ve been guilty in the past, too) quick to get all excited about some juicy or poignant Internet statistic and show how bright and in the know we are. But it’s time for us to stop adding to the mountain of informational rubbish being thrown around on the Web, and if we really want to be taken seriously, use good stats. Cite the sources. Let people dig deeper if they like to geek-out on the minutiae. Isn’t that what a searchable Web experience should offer?  Search engines were built to help people get answers, not go in circles following a ‘someone said this once’ playground game logic.

Do you agree?  Then give your facts the 3-minute rule and if you can’t find the real source in 180 seconds, don’t use it in your post, article or presentation. You could end up saving embarassment, even a client relationship, because you had really good facts to back up your content.

And if losing face in a presentation weren’t bad enough, what other damage do we face when we cite phantom Internet stats (any stats, really)?  Even people who don’t confront us directly still vote with their mouse clicks and smart phone tapping. Once a reader discoveres your site or post sharing the juicy cool Internet stat has no source, it puts the author in the same bag as people who share the Facebook Privacy Hoax every 6-9 months.  I don’t want to be there, and chances are, you don’t either. Because maintaining credibility is hard, and recovering credibility is even harder. While I may not tell you that I heard that somewhere, I at least owe it to you to let you learn more about Web credibility from a source like the Stanford University Web Credibility Project.

Did you ever find the original research cited that is behind that mobile phone/toothbrush statistic? If so, please send it to me. Then I’ll share it.


I’m a creative problem-solver helping clients who use Direct Marketing but need more effective lead generation and deeper customer relationships. You can learn more about me on LinkedIn.