Can April Fools go too far?

Posted on April 3, 2017

 

With April Fools’ Day falling on a Saturday this year, it meant that we missed out on an opportunity for our usual display of April 1st digital news tomfoolery, which in previous years has included suggestions of physical social media yearbooks and Facebook actually owning its users’ faces.

Our attempts are nothing more than a bit of frivolity, and have tended to raise a few sniggers, but no widespread confusion or outrage. To be performed well, an April Fool has to be something that’s far-fetched but can just about be believed, yet won’t make the victim feel too angry or upset when they realise it isn’t real.

It’s not uncommon, however, for companies to misjudge the situation and leave the pranked public irate rather than amused. This could be because they felt the joke was inappropriate or simply not funny.

Last year, we saw that even a company as big and powerful as Google can make a mess of an April Fool with its ‘Mic Drop’ joke. Not all Gmail users saw the comical side of the accidental noisy and suggestive GIFs they had sent or received, and the level of complaints received were such that Google issued an apology and Mic Drop was dropped.

With news, there are examples of droves of people being hoodwinked by spoof news reports. One of the most well-known of these comes from all the way back in 1957, when the BBC managed to trick viewers into believing that spaghetti grew on trees in Switzerland. It may sound ridiculous now, but 60 years ago, spaghetti was a fairly unfamiliar and exotic foodstuff to most Brits, and they can be forgiven for innocently accepting the story. Nonetheless, there were plenty of people watching who knew the story to be complete nonsense and phoned the BBC to tell them, perhaps not having checked the date first!

Another potential problem with April Fools’ Day is what if something outrageous, yet true, happens to take place on April 1st? How would the reporter get the viewer or reader to believe it?

We often read bizarre and crazy stories that leave us thinking “it’s not April 1st today, is it?”, so it’s not unlikely that one could actually fall on that date. Last year, website EDRi.org happened to report that Google, going by EU definitions, was not a search engine, and felt it necessary to conclude the piece by clarifying that it wasn’t a joke.

April Fools’ Day is a lot of fun for the media and everyone else, but care always needs to be taken to ensure we’re not just making fools of ourselves.

John Murray

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