Commentary

As April Fools' Day Nears, Recalling When Hoaxes Were Fun

April Fools’ Day used to be a joyously silly time when college newspapers (like mine) and other news outlets printed playfully incorrect stories or even parody editions.

It was an innocent age.

So at a time when it is ridiculously necessary to question the validity of everything you read and see, I’ve got to give props to The Drum.com. It has launched International Fake News Day on April Fools’ Day to official celebrate the fabricators. (The Drum obviously buys into MSM’s edict that April 1 is the “correct” day in that month for April Fools Day to happen.)

The Drum will award “Fakers” to the best in several categories. It writes: “Donald Trump will no doubt be the bookies’ favourite to take home the coveted Lifetime Achievement Award, but other categories including Best State-Sponsored Story, Best Conspiracy Theory Reported as Fact and Most Outlandish Claim of the Year are bursting at the seams with potential victors. The Drum is asking its readers to recommend more categories.

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I’d say that overwhelmingly, the majority of artfully disguised fakery is in text, not video. Maybe because fake video looks so ... fake. Or at least I hope so. (Don’t I?)  

There are some worthy attempts. Netflix, admirably, has had a hoax every year, as far as I can tell. A couple years ago, it produced fake public service announcements warning about the danger of binge-watching. Then there was HuluDATR, a dating service that matched partners with their viewing patterns. (Really, why not?)

And YouTube has a long, spectacular history of phony videos.  In 2013, it announced it would shut down until 2023 to give staff time to pick the best YouTube video ever without having the pile of contenders keep growing.

So, when it comes to April Fools’ Day, most of the fake news is gentler stuff. Facebook announced in 2015 that it would take steps to remove what was then quaintly just called “hoax news stories” by Mediaite. Most of us thought they were just dealing with jolly jesters, not (maybe) evil-motivated Russians.

But even then, things were unsteady and increasingly confusing.

Mediaite pointed out: "Facebook insists that this feature will not affect satirical websites like The Onion. (Back when Facebook considered adding a 'satire' tag, recall, The Onion called them dipshits.) It continued: That’s where things get tricky: sites like The Daily Currant and National Report, which self-label as satire but strive to make their posts appear real, are responsible for some of the most pernicious hoaxes on the Internet...”

April Fools’ hoaxes sometimes inadvertently highlight truth. In 2014, NPR’s site carried a story lamenting in that forlorn way NPR can have: “Why Doesn’t America Read Anymore?” As Gawker pointed out, many comments followed from readers who read that and agreed fully with the sad “fact” implied by the headline. But the actual story said:

Congratulations, genuine readers, and happy April Fools' Day!

We sometimes get the sense that some people are commenting on NPR stories that they haven't actually read. If you are reading this, please like this post and do not comment on it. Then let's see what people have to say about this 'story.'

And of course, NPR guessed correctly. Many irate readers went to the comments section to whine about how we’ve become a “nation of mouthbreathers” and so on.  

As Gawker perceptively observed at the time: ”The real question isn't why we don't read anymore, it's why we comment—passionately and with the utmost confidence—after reading only a headline.”

That’s so true in the so false business.

pj@mediapost.com

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