Dear Ms. Smartphone: Can you help me understand this misunderstood prank? On April Fool’s Day (this past Thursday) I posted an email to the town’s listserv. I invited fellow board members to a special Transportation Meeting. My email strongly recommended that they arrive on a scooter or bicycle. At the end of the email I wrote ‘Happy April Fools!’ Despite this, two or three people immediately called the town administrator to say they had a conflict with the date. Another person called the accessibility commissioner and complained about scooters! Honestly, I sent the email in humor but it came off as a misunderstood prank. Do people not have a sense of humor anymore? Craig (name of town withheld)
Dear Craig: Hopefully by now this misunderstood prank has sunk to the bottom of the email well and you and the town are happily reconciled. My sympathies. All of us have sent emails that we wish to have erased. But here is why your email “blew up.”
First, it’s April 2021, and the pandemic has made people edgy and anxious. It’s been a stressful 13 months and many have checked out, literally. For them, April 1 was just another new month when the rent was due and there were bills to pay. They probably forgot the occasion unless they were tuned in to jokey-jokey morning radio or TV. The Onion is not the reading choice of your listserve friends and the media they consult may be too fragmented.
Second, and this ties into a recent DearSmartphone post, we seem to be experiencing weird, wacky, and woke decision making by public groups. Why? Perhaps the majority of people who meet on Zoom don’t speak up, and a vocal minority lead the charge. Your April Fool’s email that required board members to arrive by scooter or bike might have struck them as another wacky iteration.
Jumping to Wrong Conclusions
Obviously, you are grieved because people did not read the email to the end. That would have clarified it was an April Fool’s lark. But, in my post on the weird and wacky, note that disassociated publics can jump to quick (and wrong) conclusions. Most likely, the members read the email from home, alone, and for some, still in their PJs. The post would have been received differently had they congregated at the water-cooler or conversed about it over the office cubicles.
While I hate to be a spoiler, there is a larger, sinister issue surrounding your innocent April Fools prank. Increasingly our media seems to be hijacked by fake news and fake followers. For example, nearly half of the Twitter accounts spreading messages about the pandemic this past summer were probably bots, according to researchers at Carnegie Mellon University. And, recently The New York Times has started publishing ‘Daily Distortions’, a feed to chronicle and debunk false and misleading information. Meanwhile, it’s not just the news stories that are co-opted. There is increasingly sophisticated software that alters and fabricate images.
Check Hoax, Check ‘Snopes’
You might get a smile from the site called hoaxes.org where I found the river image (above). Quite to your point, someone posted the image and a prank story on April’s Fools day, 2015. Snopes, a useful fact-checking site, says people continue to stumble upon the image of an Orca attacking a bear. Bearware?! It’s beginning to feel like everyday is April Fools!