So yesterday, as an April Fools’ Day prank I announced that I was retiring my blog. Nothing could be further from the truth of course. I love blogging and, for the foreseeable future, find it hard to imagine not putting thoughts to words to posts. It’s also been heartwarming (and guilt inducing) to get dozens of emails and tweets from friends and readers I’ve never met expressing disappointment and congratulations.
But also interesting is how social media – and the internet generally – has revived April Fools’ Day, made it more widespread and protected us against it.
I’ll confess I have no data to support this argument, but I feel like there are more April Fools’ pranks these days. Part of this is because April Fools’ pranks have to be gentle and non-permanent (or at least the prankster should have both the responsibility and capacity to reverse the prank). In the physical world this is harder to do. But in a virtual space a prank is easily undone. Unlike disassembling a car, creating a misleading and humorous story is a lot easier. It is also, most of the time, easy to correct.
Of course, creating stories is not new. Just look at the BBC’s famous 1957 April Fools’ prank in which the TV news show panorama featured a story about Swiss-Italian farmers harvesting their spagetti crop (pure genius). Huge numbers of viewers fell for the joke (and many were, apparently, not amused). But just as we are now all journalists, we are now all pranksters. It is also easier for more of us to do April Fools’ jokes since more of us tweet and blog. It also means that a joke or prank is likely to spread wider and faster.
Internet as protection:
But just as the internet makes it easier for everyone to engage in April Fools’ pranks, and for those pranks to disseminate more widely, it also provides us with new tools to assess their veracity. Just take a look at the comments on my own blog. Many of my readers new immediately that the post was a hoax, and said as much right below the story. Same was true on twitter and facebook. Indeed what was interesting is that most people who commented on facebook knew the post was a joke, whereas tweets were more likely to have taken the piece seriously. Not sure what that is… Possibly because facebook has more people who know me personally and were more likely to be skeptical of me… :) Either way, in a world where the audience speaks back our capacity to sniff out – and notify others – of problems in a story are there, and we use them. It was much harder to do this in 1957 with the BBC.
All this to say, I never meant for this to be a petri dish experiment around critical media skills but what a wonderful demonstration that the medium is the message. I love that the internet has renewed a great tradition but I’m even happier to see how it empowers us all to be skeptical and to warn others.
Hopefully, I haven’t lost too many readers in the process. Hope you had a good April Fools’ day yesterday.