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Jokes on Blogs – Proceed With Caution

We all like a joke on 1 April (and it can even be good for your blog) but some good advice to remember when playing such ‘pranks’ is that jokes that impact others should seriously be considered.

My mum used to say – ‘it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt’ and ‘the problem with practical jokes is that some people don’t know when to stop’. Wise words mum.

On April Fools day this year a post was written on another blog that declared that I’d gone bankrupt and had never earned more than $1000 a month from blogging. I’m not going to link to it because I’d rather not have the post rank well for my name – you’ll understand why after reading on.

The post was a joke. It was in a series of posts by the blogger that were jokes. Another in the series was that Shoemoney was arrested for riding a bike while drunk.

OK – so the jokes amused some and when I first saw the one about me I didn’t really think twice about it assuming that people would work out that it was posted on 1 April (update: it was posted on 31 March) and have a giggle and then move on.

That was until I started getting emails from people about the post.

  • Some of the emails were people pointing out the joke because they thought it was funny. Most of these had found it either on Digg or Sphinn where the the post had been submitted.
  • Some of the emails were from people unsure if it was a joke or not
  • Some of the emails were from people who believed it to be true (I got six of these). One of these was from someone who I pay each month to do some writing for me on DPS who was concerned about getting paid and another was from someone that I’m in business with. These were the emails that concerned me the most.

Today I got an email telling me that a page on Wikipedia about me now had the information that I was bankrupt and had never earned more than $1000 a month. Firstly I was surprised anyone even looked at that page on Wikipedia… but then I quickly edited the page and stated my reason for doing so.

OK – so here’s some thoughts on this mini-saga.

Firstly – I’m not posting this to single out the person who played the joke. I don’t think it was done with any malicious intent and I don’t really want this post to be about him or the incident itself (in fact he today changed the post to make it very obvious that it’s a joke, something I appreciate) – but rather I hope it’s lesson is one that informs others as they think about how they blog.

Secondly – my advice when it comes to April Fools day posts (or playing any sort of jokes on readers) is to consider the ramifications of your post – particularly when you use another person (or their name) in your joke. While it might be blatantly obvious to you and 99% of your readers that you’re not serious – you will fool someone. Perhaps they just read the title, perhaps the skim the post and don’t see the clues or perhaps they just believe it without question. As a result I tend to only play jokes that use my own name or reputation – or would advise that if you’re going to involve someone else that you might want to check with them first.

Thirdly – consider the legal ramifications of your post. When you post untrue information online about another person that damages their reputation or that leads to them to suffer financially my understanding of the law is that you put yourself in a position where that person can take legal action against you. Luckily in this case it seems that I’ve managed to contain any damage that may have been done – however as a comment on this post says, if I’d been in the middle of a deal that someone pulled out of as a result of this then I (or someone much less forgiving than me) could have had reason to explore their legal position. I’m sure some of our legally trained readers will be able to give us good advice on this.

Once again – this isn’t about the post itself but rather I post it (hesitantly) as a warning for a few things to consider the next time you consider pranking your readers. By all means have fun with your blog – just be careful.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Sorry this happened to you Darren.

    It’s amazing how many people don’t get the jokes. A few month’s back an article in a regional newspaper quoted The Onion as a source.

    It’s amazing what happens on The Interwebs.

  2. Tyler Ingram says:

    See people April Fool Jokes/Pranks can go a bit too far even if they aren’t meant to. Nice to see that you were able to correct things though so it wouldn’t do any more damage.

    Now if more people posted jokes like this, would people stop believing things they read on the internet?

  3. Hi Darren,
    I think one can be sure that – no matter how clear it might be to most of us – someone always gets fooled and carries the information on to other people, which might not hear this on April 1st, but … somewhen.
    I think that you showed us in a professional way how to deal with potentially dangerous situations that might harm your or anyones reputation:

    - react fast
    - react not only on your blog, but also other sources and social networks
    - explain the situation and why you react
    - don’t be evil ;) and let the funny guy survive
    - maybe find a good supporter by doing so
    - try to prevent this situation from happening again by writing about it

    more suggestions we can learn?

  4. Wow, so sorry this happened to you! I think practical jokes that deal with the business, reputation, and livelihood of individuals should not be practiced anywhere, especially the web.

    I would have to agree with Tyler, what happens when people stop believing material on the internet? There’s already trouble enough with citing the internet and wikipedia as a reputable source.

  5. Patrick Biz says:

    Hey Darren, here’s how I found this entry in your Wikipedia page. Maki published this Twitt yesterday:

    “I measure popularity by the length of Wikipedia pages. You’re somebody when your Wikipedia page takes me 15 minutes to read.” -Doshdosh

    This gave me the idea to check out some problogger names on Wikipedia to see who has a page, and what’s in there. So I tried yours, and bingo, I found what became the story of the day ;-)

    I could’ve changed the entry right away, or email you, but you know… life’s a link, so I decided to publish it ;-)

    Patrick

  6. Larry Eiss says:

    Thank you for posting this. I have never been a fan of practical jokes or April Fool’s jokes for just this reason. The Internet provides everyone with a wonderful research and learning tool. While there is certainly a lot of room for humor and much other content, it is very important that each of us does our part to ensure that it is not misleading. If we don’t we undermine the trustworthiness of the entire mass of information.

  7. It is incredible how easily can one mess with Wikipedia while everyone else considers that information true and relevant.

    That’s further proof that having so many people editing these pages with little moderation and research activity done is not a good thing.

    Wikipedia is a wonderful project but there has to be a way to secure the relevance of the information submitted.

    Sorry for what happened to you Darren, but I’m sure that at least 99% of your readers know the real thing.

  8. Paula Hawk says:

    Thanx so much for posting this Darren.

    It seems that some will not even limit their jokes to just April Fool’s also. Yesterday I came across a Digg submission claiming that Hillary Clinton had said that my beloved Jayhawks did not deserve to win. Initially I was outraged, then did some searching and funny enough, it is only this one article that is claiming this to be true.

    These jokes could potentially be decision makers in some very important things such as US Politics. The site was also pimping out “Barak Chalk Jayhawk” items on Cafe Press.

    I have not been a fan of Obama all along, but this was my personal last straw. If Hillary doesn’t beat Barack, I will be voting for McCain or perhaps even Nader.

    I know you probably don’t care about American Politics too much, I just wanted to point out that these jokes are really getting out of hand! :)

  9. I think anyone who would pull that kind of prank is really jerky and insensitive. You’ve handled it like a gentleman, Darren, but I’d certainly be ticked off.

  10. Bontb says:

    For april fools day which is also my birthday I wrote about 1 free spot advertising 125×125 and people did not believe only 12 people said ok ill do it and 2 of them commented. The next day I wrote who is the winner I got responses “oh next time I should of believe you” .

    As far as the above blog goes you haven’t linked to I think its bad idea.

    Also there is another blog that ranks pretty high kid that is 15years old said he is going to Army and will not blog any more. See when I was 15 my country was at war and damn right I was in army lol.

  11. DE says:

    Wow thats interesting some people take it too far.

  12. esvl says:

    That sucks.

    Some people are just to serious.

  13. That was close darren; it could have easily been what they teach us in college about defamation on the internet and how internet can affect someones reputation!!

    So, its good that got it under your control.

    Cheers man and Love your work.

  14. Wow.. now I know I never want to be popular and have a Wikipedia page in my name. Some people are plain evil and inconsiderate to people’s feelings and reputation.

  15. Rhea says:

    You’re a class act. I appreciate your reasoned, level-headed response to that April Fools’ prank. More people should behave like you.

  16. Frugal Dad says:

    I was asked to be part of a similar stunt by a larger blogger and I refused. The idea was a coordinated series of posts around different blogs in our niche as part of a joke against one blog in particular. I didn’t think it was very funny, and saw the potential legal ramifications. I thought best just to steer clear for the sake of my readers, and for the poor guy they were planning to punk in April Fool fashion. If you are trying to project a professional image through your blog I highly recommend avoiding such stunts – they appear amateurish.

  17. I would never play a joke on any day of the week to someone in the business world. If you wanna play a joke on your siblings or friends, then by all means. But playing a joke on a co-worker, what happens if he or she gets fired because of it. That’s crazy

  18. fsulawyer says:

    I read elsewhere that the blogger who posted this “joke” considered it humorous “linkbait” and he figures that it worked because Darren blogged about it and he thinks linked to him. I guess the joke is on him because Darren didn’t give him the link. For the same reason, I refuse to mention him by name.

    I’m a lawyer and tend to look at everything cynically — an occupational hazard. Even so, I Googled the “news” to see if I could verify it elsewhere, becauase I recognized that if it was untrue that it was libelous and, therefore, only a fool would post a false claim like that.. In fact, accusing a business person of filing bankruptcy and misrepresenting himself (fraud) is libelous per se. It was also March 31st when I read it and not April 1. I knew the blogger in question is located in the midwest. After finding this information nowhere else, I knew for sure it was false and seriously considered advising the person in question that it was libelous.

    He also claimed that he “kept it to himself” except for a few Diggs etc. I know that isn’t true because I found out about the post when he Tweeted it for all the world of Twitter to see. I was following him on Twitter because he’d been following everybody and their brother to build his following and I fell for it. Even if he hadn’t Twittered it, posting to an Internet blog with an RSS feed isn’t keeping it to yourself.

    He can try to laugh this off as bloggers taking themselves too seriously, but there is a very real difference between lighthearted fun and trying to build your own reputation and following at the expense of others and their reputations.

    Keep up the good work Darren, you’re taking this much better than I would have.

  19. Sangesh says:

    Certainly, a joke can be good for some limit. But if it crosses the limit then it become some kind of annoyance. It may also sometimes trouble someone.

  20. Rhys says:

    I love aprils fools gags, but I find that to do a goodun you need to think more.

    My April fools gags was to feign an exploit in wordpress – http://www.gospelrhys.co.uk/aprilfools/. Blatently anybody who reads more than 2 sentances would know it’s an april fools gag. But it still fooled people. Amazingly! People thought they were being helpful spotting my error and got confused when I didn’t pull it down (i generally said “give it until after twelve on April 1st 2008 and It’ll be fixed). I was hurting nobody with my prank (by and large everybody who saw it thought it was brilliant, hence more traffic and linkbacks), so in my eyes it was a good April fools gags.

    The worst in my opinion are those who call out other people with blatent untruths (unless they are priorly arranged – one year me and a blogging mate had a verbal slanging match over our blogs after a heated arguement on whether or not you put Salad Cream in the fridge. Was amusing), or those bloggers who say “My blogs been bought for $1,000,000!”. To me that just shows an arrogence and uncreativity.

  21. Allison says:

    I’m not a fan of AFD posts for the simple fact that they waste people’s time. I mean, something like what they did at Destructiod (spoofing Fox News) is one thing, but a “pretend” news story…yeah, I’m definitely not a fan.

    I understand some people like those kinds of jokes, though, which is why I stay away from the Internet on April 1. However – if you’re going to play a joke, it is REALLY IMPORTANT to, at some point the next day, add a disclaimer at the top of the post that this was your AFD post. Otherwise, people who land on said post during the next couple of months generally won’t realize that its a joke by the date alone.

  22. cory huff says:

    I wrote what was, in retrospect, a completely inappropriate april fool’s joke. It turned out to be one of my most popular this month, though. Probably because of the first comment on the blog – one of my readers saw through the joke and turned it around on me, totally freaking me out at first.

    I didn’t choose to single anyone out though. That’s just mean.

  23. I appreciate you saying that! I was thrown for a loop several times by blogs trying to be funny (and not succeeding).

  24. Reginald says:

    I am sorry you were the brunt of a inconsiderate prank. It is a perfect example of why the April Fool’s prank should be reconsider and carefully contemplated before it is implemented.

    In fact, perhaps if one is considering an April Fool’s prank, the best place to start is the consequences of the prank once it is done.

  25. Webdesigner says:

    It’s amazing how many people don’t get the jokes. If you write something people will believe it easily.

    I believe having (blog) authority has a dark side too. My friend is working on an essay about reputation management on the Internet. I believe this is a part we’ll have to include.

    I recall an actor getting harassed because in the series he was beating his wife, not in real life. It’s scary how much media alters our view of reality.

    I’m sorry this happened to you Darren. Therefore I’m even more thankful you put this into a more positive context: a valuable blog post that might help a lot of people prevent similar situations from happening.

    Keep up the good work.

  26. Ray Fowler says:

    Darren, I appreciate the way you handled this. You have modelled both wisdom and grace in what could have been a “fly-off-the-handle” situation.

  27. I am always suprised at the number of people that “don’t get the joke.”

    With that being said I guess it is important to remember that you must not use other people within your post unless it is true information you are using or you have permission.

    Once the cat is out of the bag it is harder than heck to put it back in.

  28. Doug says:

    For about 6 years, I’ve been posting April fools stories on one of my sites and we (my writers and I) always enjoy making them up and the readers have always seemed to enjoy them. We take things pretty far, but the next day I also re-label them as “just for fun” and also add a “to read the entire article…” link pointing to a “April Fools!” post. Sure, some people are fooled even after April 1, even with all that and a ton of comments on the articles revealing them as April Fools pranks. Illiteracy, A.D.D. and year-round fools are not my problem :-) If someone was affected, then I would grant them the right to be upset, but seriously, people need to lighten up sometimes.

    To me, the key is revealing that the post was a fake after April 1. That should stop most reasonable misunderstandings of the pranks.

  29. noemi says:

    One should really think of the consequences before posting. and that goes for April Fool jokes, comments and blog posts.

  30. OldSailor says:

    I agree. Making fun can not be at the cost of hurting someone.

  31. Sorry to hear that this happened to you Darren. When putting together my April Fools Day blog post I thought long and hard about directing the content of my post at someone else or myself. I chose to pursue the path of self-deprecating humor for two reasons…
    1. All the reasons you’ve touched on.
    2. If you can’t laugh at yourself who can you laugh at.

    What I enjoyed about your April Fool’s Day Post is that you played on tech news and partly made fun of your business. A very good angle to take… but per your points in this situation you took a similar but calculated risk with the reputation of your business. The difference is that you had control of that situation.

    Humor is tricky business and when it comes to blogging about someone other than yourself or your own business you need to be especially careful.

  32. Roman says:

    I read all the comments and found it weird that the person who wrote the joke didn’t appologize for taking it too far.

    I think to any reasonable person who would look on your web properties and amount of advertising it would be evident that you make way more than a $1000. (a sign of white envy).

    Good job in being so political savvy about it!

  33. Luis Gross says:

    This should be a lesson to everyone, not just because of Darren’s experience but also because of all the other blogs and websites experience on April 1st as well. Many other sites went through the same thing when they posted what was meant to be an “April fools joke” on their readers and got plenty of negative responses. If your serious and want to be professional about your blog and or website then you should keep it that way 365 days of the year, 366 on a leap year. If you walk in to your bank and try to make a with drawl their not going to say your account balance is on $0 then call you back a few hours later and say “April fools!”. Some might say you can’t compare the 2, but you most definitely can if your serious and professional about what you do.

    - Luis Gross TopBusinessReviews.com

  34. Rich Miller says:

    The April Fool’s jokes on blogs this year created another challenge, as some real news actually took place on April 1. I was at a conference that day in which Microsoft announced news that was significant within our sector (data centers). I later spoke with some people who simply assumed it was a joke, because there were so many joke stories on other blogs.

    Credibility matters, and it’s getting to the point where it’s hard to determine what’s real and fake in the bloigosphere on April 1. Here’s to more blogospheric restraint next year.

  35. Shaun says:

    Well handled, Darren. That would be outrageously infuriating to me.

  36. Fern R says:

    The April Fool’s Day joke was almost certainly defamation, and if it had interfered with a business deal/relationship and was done intentionally, it could have been tortious interference.

  37. if ya need a “favor” d – let me know…JK

  38. Ginkgo100 says:

    I’m a long-time Wikipedian, and the person who anonymously updated your article broke one of Wikipedia’s four cardinal policies (not adding unsourced/poorly source information to biographies of living persons). I left a warning that will be seen by the next person to visit Wikipedia from that IP, although it may not be the same person.

    I pulled a couple of online jokes on April Fool’s Day, but it never occurred to me to make posts involving others; in fact I carefully constructed my “biggest” joke (on my private blog) to make sure it wouldn’t hurt any third party. On my puzzle site, My Puzzle Fix, I limited my April Foolery to a puzzle about April Fool’s Day that also had a small prank in the rules — breaking a common assumption about that type of puzzle (a word search).

  39. Kishor says:

    People should probably post a small warning at the end of 1st April posts

  40. Lightening says:

    Wow! That’s even worse than the crazy posts I read which impacted the actual blogger in a negative way. I thought that was bad enough. I agree, when playing any kind of joke, you really have to think through the ramifications of those who actually fall for it. After all, isn’t the point of an April Fools Day Joke to trick people?

  41. Your mum was absolutely right and some of the jokes can really hurt other people, unintentionally.
    Nobody wants to get hurt by a stupid joke, made by someone else.

  42. fathersez says:

    A joke should be funny to all, especially if the prankster who played out the prank, was the “victim.”

    I think the example you have quoted is a very poor example of a prank. Obviously the guy meant no harm (since he changed the wording etc.), but this is akin to shutting the door after the horse has bolted.

    Free speech can be a dangerous tool if not used responsibly.

    I would not like to have been in your shoes, and I am really sorry you have to spend time and energy explaining yourself to others, when its not your fault at all.

  43. I had to clarify that my April Fool’s day article was a joke as well – but I had to reach out to a number of blogs personally to do it.

    My story was “Miraculous weight loss compound found in arctic thaw”, here: http://almostfit.com/2008/04/01/miraculous-weight-loss-compound-found-in-arctic-thaw/

    It is completely unbelievable if you actually read it – but the problem is most people didn’t – they skimmed it and thought it was legit, which was at first only reflected in the comments.

    But then I started to see it popping up as factual on several health blogs as well as in a pretty official looking news/press release.

    aye caramba.

  44. I thought it was true at first, because I work a third shift and I don’t really put much thought into April Fool’s because I have more concerns in my life.

    Then I realized it was a joke. And I laughed a little.

    After reading you reply post, I understand how it could affect people.

    I will not ever post an AFD post on my serious blog.

  45. Agreed – there is a time and a place for AFD jokes – people should give a little thought to where they post…

  46. mysapce says:

    I remember when a blogger had posted the exorcist girl’s link on there page. First it started out as a love poem with music in the background then she popped up on the screen. OMG! that was such a long time ago like 2004, but still freaky till this day.