April Fools’ Day used to be fun, but no longer. It’s a day of cringe-worthy jokes, fake press releases, and bad pranks that break services like Gmail. Everyone should follow Microsoft’s valiant lead and put a stop to it.
How April Fools’ Day Has Gotten Worse
April Fools’ Day seems to get worse every year. And no, we don’t think it’s just us getting old. The way the Internet works—and the way everyone from tech companies to news websites approaches April Fools’ Day—is fundamentally different.
The BBC’s famous 1957 hoax showed spaghetti being harvested from trees. Sure, maybe this fooled some people, but it was funny. With a bit of knowledge or research, you could discover that this just wasn’t physically possible.
The spaghetti piece aired on the BBC on April Fools’ Day and didn’t become a segment that aired over and over throughout the year—unlike online, where you can stumble into fake articles months later and be misled before realizing they were published on April Fools’ Day.
The Internet is different now. Tech companies often “announce” products that could actually be real—but they aren’t, because it’s April Fools’ Day!
Of course, to make things extra confusing, crazy announcements on April Fool’s Day can be real. Gmail was famously announced on April Fools’ Day in 2004, and people thought it was fake because there was no way Google could offer 1 GB of email storage. After all, Hotmail only offered 2 MB (0.2% of Gmail’s storage) at the time. So is it any surprise when people believe Google might actually announce a lawn gnome with Google Assistant, or an app store for pets, or even self-driving bicycles? People expect companies not to deceive them with fake press releases, and it’s easy to overlook the date—especially when you find that story days or weeks later.
It’s not just about misleading stories. Some pranks get in the way and cause problems. Google’s 2016 Gmail “mic drop” prank added a button to Gmail that archived the current email thread, muted it, and sent an animated GIF of a Minion. Many people accidentally clicked this button—and Gmail sometimes accidentally activated the feature even if you didn’t click it! Suddenly Gmail just muted one of your email threads so you won’t see any replies—what a funny prank, right?
April Fools’ Day all used to be in good fun, but, when tech companies tamper with the tools we all use and cause problems, it’s time to draw the line—or, as Google might put it, drop the mic.
And let’s be honest: Even when the April Fools’ jokes are obviously fake and don’t get in the way, they’re often incredibly cringe-worthy and just not funny. We like Roku, but is “Roku SnackSuggest,” a Roku channel that suggests snacks to go with TV shows, really a funny joke? We don’t think so.
Microsoft Puts Its Foot Down
Thankfully, at least one company got the message. Microsoft made headlines when marketing chief Chris Capossela banned April Fools’ Day pranks this year, warning all Microsoft employees to cancel any public-facing April Fools’ Day jokes. “I appreciate that people may have devoted time and resources to these activities, but I believe we have more to lose than gain by attempting to be funny on this one day,” he wrote.
In the past, Microsoft has used April Fools’ Day jokes to insult Google on Bing.com, referring to Google’s clean home page as having “more of a 1997, dial-up sensibility” that shows “how our world would look if we hadn’t evolved.” As Matt McGee over at Search Engine Land wrote in 2013: “So much for the light and humorous spirit of April Fool’s Day. Wow, Bing.”
Thankfully Microsoft is leading the way today—and dropped the mean-spirited Scroogled campaign years ago, too.
Of course, not all companies have embraced cringey April Fools’ jokes. As John Gruber notes, Apple has never performed an April Fools’ Day joke.
Be Careful Who You Prank
We’ve got a list of geeky computer pranks you can play on people but use your best judgment. Pranking your brother or a buddy with whom you have an ongoing prank war? Sure, that could be funny. Messing with a less tech-savvy coworker’s computer when you don’t have that kind of relationship? Don’t do it.
That’s the big problem tech companies have run into. It’s all good fun to mess with people who are into pranks—but pranking the entire internet, and changing the way Gmail works for everyone? That’s not cool.
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