Unless you haven't checked the calendar the past few days, you'll know that today is 1st April - better known as April Fool's Day. It's that day when companies all over the world do their best to come up with fake products and features in the bizarre hope that people will think they're real. It's basically the one day of the year when it's okay to try and spread fake news. Except this year the antics haven't been quite as contained as they should have been.
As the people who get the announcements for these pretend products, and have the job of screening what's real and what's not, we've seen a worrying trend this year. Just like how Black Friday has turned into a weeks-long event, April Fool's jokes are now being publishing several days before the day itself. Last Thursday we spotted an announcement for a 'vegan friendly' phone that could spot whether your sausage roll was vegan or not, and on Friday Tinder announced that it was introducing 'height verification' so short men couldn't lie about their height.
The vegan thing was obviously a joke, even though we can definitely see a phone company big up their AI products in that sort of way. But Tinder? Well that could be real, and a lot of people seemed to think it was. News sites even covered this story over the weekend, and though I'm sure some of them seem to have been pulled there are a couple still up there in their original form. There are also people out there on Reddit and social media who didn't seem to have cottoned onto the fact that it's a joke. Like all the *lovely* dudes demanding weight verification for women.
Some of those people are joking, some of them are not. It's impossible to tell on the internet, where the first response to everything is outrage. While there are bound to be plenty of people who would be angered by this news had Tinder announced it today, the fact that it was announced last Friday just added to the confusion. You can mock someone for believing a fake news story on 1st April, even though we've all been there, but before then? That's not on us, that's on the company that jumped the gun.
Here's the thing. There's a lot of competition for attention on the internet, and every marketing team worth half a damn knows 1st April is going to be saturated with dumb stories trying to gain a bit of the spotlight. In the same way that big retailers launch their Black Friday sales a week early, those marketeers presumably decided they can jump the gun a few days early. They get the extra press because they wee first, people have a laugh at the joke, and so on.
But that's not what happens. People are inherently sceptical on 1st April, more so than any other day of the news cycle, so they're far more likely to spot a fake story. In the days running up to it that may not be the case. It took me longer than I'd like to admit that the 'vegan phone' wasn't a real product, and in my job I generally have to be more suspicious of what I read on a daily basis. I'm not always successful, because it's hard, and there's plenty of stuff out there designed to mislead people as it is. Adding to that with early April Fool's announcements is just going to confuse a lot more people than normal - all so the company can get a bit of extra headline space and the marketing department can have a giggle.
Maybe deliberate confusion is the whole point, because more confusion means more people talking, and more press is good press right? Well, that's not okay either. We live in a time where those in power just love to declare something as 'fake news' simply because they don't like it, and where there genuinely are people trying to manipulate the masses with fake stories. Deliberately making fake stories for shits and giggles is one thing, especially when people are expecting it, but releasing it some other time is a step too far. It's definitely something we should be actively discouraging.
I don't like April Fool's Day, or at least I don't like how it's been adopted and semi-commercialised by big businesses for the sake of a quick gag. Frankly I'd be much happier if every company followed in Microsoft's footsteps and scrapped the whole thing, but that may be wishful thinking on my part. But if it's going to happen there need to be rules, and the most important rule is that none of these announcements should see the light of day until 1st April.
That means you Tinder, Roku, Vegan phone people, and the countless other companies that figured making their fake announcement last week was the right thing to do.