Friday, April 2, 2010

April Fool's Hoaxes

April 1 is a good source of evaluation challenges.

Actually, doing an evaluation of an unlikely online story that appears on April Fool's Day is a bit unfair--the date itself is a clue that raises suspicious.  But it's possible to run across April Fool's pranks anytime online, and not paying close attention to the date may cause some credibility confusion.

Yesterday, Google announced that it changed its name to Topeka in response to the Kansas city changing its name to Google.  Part of the story is true, but not all of it.

BBC has a long history of running prank news reports on April 1. Samples include the Swiss Spaghetti Harvest (1957) and the Flying Penguins (2008).  Plenty of people were fooled by the accounts.

The Museum of Hoaxes has a page covering the top 100 April Fools pranks. Scanning the descriptions its sobering that people were tricked into believing (and incensed) that Taco Bell purchased the Liberty Bell (1996). That's why April Fool's persists--people are more willing to believe than to be skeptical.

I like using lesser known April Fools examples in workshops, particularly when it's not April first. Not many people evaluate the date. It's a good exercise to raise awareness of the date of publication.

Even without looking at the date, it's possible to poke holes in pranks using simple fact checking.  For example, Google's Blog, makes the following claim:

Early last month the mayor of Topeka, Kansas stunned the world by announcing that his city was changing its name to Google.
Browsing the link in the quote above, it becomes apparent that Google has stretched the truth. Here's what the mayor said:
"It's just fun. We're having a good time of it," he said of the unofficial name change, which will last through the end of March. "There's a lot of good things that are going on in our city."
Most online pranks can be investigated and diffused by checking facts--and date of publication. Still, plenty of people are willing to get worked up over nothing. God bless 'em.

Have a favorite online prank? It could make a good search challenge.

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