April Fools’ Day Is the Worst Day on the Internet
Here we are about half-way through the annual tradition that is April Fools’ Day, and allow your humble writer here to be the Debbie Downer who says it: this “holiday” is the worst. Sure, it wasn’t “the worst” so much as just “mildly unpleasant” back when pranks were innocent and one needed only fret that one’s sister had replaced the bag inside the Cheerios box with the bag from the Corn Flakes. But now that we’ve entered the age of the internet, where hoaxes can go viral and nothing can be trusted, it’s reached the apex of irritating.
We’re actually more willing than some to enjoy a good gag from tech companies like Google, but when news organizations in particular think that today’s date gives them leave to abandon their mission of saying things that are, you know … true, well, then we start to get weary. Most of the time, news outlets that pull an April Fools prank don’t actually intend to seriously misinform readers (not the news outlets that value their reputation, anyway). The jokes traffic on the idea that everyone knows it’s April Fools’ Day, and everyone will see the joke coming. Call us crazy, but making a joke that everyone is expecting isn’t the most fertile territory for great comedy. And even if readers don’t see it coming, usually a news organization will report something so obviously false, everyone will almost instantly recognize it as a joke. That way, people only have to do a double-take for about half a second before realizing they’ve been pranked. If the deception lasts longer than that, it’s a problem. If the joke is both not instantly recognizable as such and tasteless—as with the B.U. student paper’s prank story about frat boys sexually assaulting a girl last year or the time Opie and Anthony got fired for saying on the radio that Mayor Tom Menino had died in a car accident—well then it’s a huge problem.
This year, the Boston media’s April Fools Joke award goes to BostInno, which put up a post this morning titled “MBTA Approves Plan For Late-Night Service, T to Remain Open Until 3 a.m.” Oh how very droll, BostInno! As if anyone would believe that the T is going to remain open! In fairness, the post, with its over-the-top claims that a DJ would play on the Green Line every night past 1 a.m., was definitely not written to be believed. And it’s not tasteless in the style of BU’s incident last year. But search the article on Twitter, and you’ll find that many, many people aren’t reading beyond the headline, and tweeting it out as hard news.
This is pretty embarrassing for those who buy into it, but can they really be blamed? Sure, to the informed reader, the prospect of 3 a.m. T service doesn’t seem likely in the face of a serious budget shortfall. But to the reader who hasn’t been following the MBTA’s money woes closely, it seems plausible. And look, here’s a headline that tells them it’s so mixed in with a bunch of other factual headlines. Better get to tweeting!
Sure the gag seems to have tickled several people less grinch-ey than us. And BostInno isn’t the only organization trying to get in on the action this year. Good Morning America did a segment on gorilla languages. But to many of us, it’s getting really tiresome scrolling through the internet reading everything with a dose of incredulity. People shouldn’t have to set aside a day every year in which none of their trusted sources for news can be heeded. Going forward, can we all agree to leave the pranking to companies that don’t stake their entire reputation on telling the truth?