On August 20, 2015, a Facebook user and mom uploaded a video that claimed there were tiny shards of glass in some Huggies wipes she’d purchased. Parents don’t generally like the idea of wiping their babies’ butts with tiny shards of glass, and reacted the way you would expect worried parents to react — by sharing the video and announcing their utter disgust that such a thing could happen.
Only, it didn’t happen.
There was never any glass in those wipes. Or fiberglass. Or parabens. Or any of the other foreign objects people hypothesized about in the week after the video surfaced. There was nothing in those wipes, apart from the usual ingredients: cellulose (fancy word for paper), water, and a small solution for cleaning, skin health, and safety – that has been in Huggies wipes for years without consequence. Still, the few videos made regarding the “glass” have been viewed upwards of 20 million times. The fact that the allegations are not true doesn’t even matter. Millions of people have now associated the words “Huggies” and “glass.” Whether or not they believe it, it’s still an epic PR nightmare. The question is, how does a rumor like this catch fire on the internet, when it has absolutely no basis in reality?
Thats the question I was tossing around in my head the first time I heard about the “glass” scandal and wrote about it. The first thought I had upon hearing the words “baby wipes” and “glass” used in the same sentence was, “Oh! That’s terrible!” Then I watched the video. I saw the mom running her hands over what she claimed to be “tiny shards of glass.” Immediately I knew there was no way in hell she was running her hands over shards of glass. I was a bartender for nearly 15 years. I know what it feels like to run your hands over broken glass. Even the tiniest shards of broken glass still pierce the skin. There’s no way she was feeling glass on those wipes.
But I’ve also been a terrified new parent. I understand that “reason” and the “new parent brain” don’t exactly peacefully co-exist. There was nothing “reasonable” about that video. It still struck so many people as believable that it was shared millions of times and covered by almost every major news network.
And some of that coverage boggles the mind. The local news station in Denver (where the mom from the original video is from) claimed, “She showed us too, and you can see those same sparkly pieces.” Both newscasters have the look of concern newscasters usually get when something “bad” is happening. I felt those wipes — the actual wipes the mom sent back to Huggies. There was no glass. Not only was there no glass, there was absolutely nothing hard on them, whatsoever. There was a slight glimmer if the moisture of the wipes caught light — just like happens to any other wet surface when it catches light. The fact that the local news stations were shown these wipes and still went forward with their stories absolutely blows me away.
But I know why they did. I’m in the business of parenting news. It’s my job to daily figure out what the most “viral” most “shareable” snippets of news are. This story had all the ingredients of a viral sensation: it elicited concern, involved a recognizable brand name, and if it were true — would’ve been really horrifying.
But it wasn’t true.
I just joined roughly 20 other bloggers for a day in Chicago* and learned more than I ever wanted to know about diapers and wipes. I touched every brand of wipe they have — including the ones in the now infamous video: the actual wipes that were sent back to Huggies for testing by the concerned mom on Facebook. The “glimmer” people were weighing in about in countless threads on Facebook when the video surfaced is caused by the polypropylene microfibers getting wet and catching light. If rubbed vigorously, the intersection of these polypropylene fibers may tangle like very fine hair and create a “bump” that you can actually feel between the layers of cellulose. But diaper wipes are called “wipes” for a reason. They are not meant to be vigorously rubbed over your child’s skin or any other surface for that matter. And if a bump does form, it’s certainly not enough to irritate a baby’s skin. It’s tiny. It’s not rough. It’s definitely not sharp or easily confused with glass.
The power of social media is slightly terrifying. Jose Corella, the Senior Brand Manager for Huggies said regarding the incident, “At any given time a concerned parent can make us double or triple our workload. But it’s times like these that we can prove we have a giant team of people working full time — all the time — to provide safe products.”
It’s true. At any time anyone can make a video with no factual basis, cause widespread hysteria, and force a giant corporation to work overtime proving there is nothing wrong with their product. That’s terrifying, and also a little comforting. We have access we’ve never had to the ears of heads of companies. The new social media climate dictates that they have prove themselves when things like this happen.
There was no recall, because a battery of tests couldn’t find anything wrong with the product. The safety testing was done externally for unbiased results. No one found anything dangerous about the Huggies wipes.
The most telling quote I got from the day was from the Vice President of the Huggies brand, Eleonora Daireaux:
“Nothing was wrong. And yet — you’re here.”
*My expenses were covered to attend the Huggies Parent Council in Chicago, but all opinions in this post are my own.