Yesterday, April 1, April Fool’s Day here in the U.S., I wrote a post that began with:
In a surprising move, LinkedIn announced late Monday that they will be terminating their free service, beginning May 1.
It was pure satire, and got a lot of laughs (I’m told even within LinkedIn – one Sr. Director even reposted it on his personal blog), but like most good satire, it was just a little too close to believable, and some people missed the joke. And as you can see from the comments below, which I’ve left in tact, a few people even took me to task over it.
Personally, I think it’s great to all let our hair down once a year and have a good laugh, poking a little fun at the things we take a little too seriously the other 364 days. But I had made a decision before I even posted it that I wasn’t going to leave the whole thing up, at least certainly not without a clear explanation up front, if at all.
Because to do so wouldn’t be a good service to my readers. For one day devoted to pranks, I’ll forgive myself. I’m in pretty good company (see below). But to have people even see the headline any other time is potentially confusing, and potentially damaging to my own brand as a reliable, credible source, not to mention LinkedIn.
Which brings me to my next point… what are the consequences of April Fool’s pranks? What will the aftermath be on Wednesday?
Hey, I love a good April Fool’s prank as much as anyone, and I get a kick out of great satire. But don’t we have to draw the line at some point? Maybe Michael Arrington can get away with saying he’s suing Facebook, or Chris Pirillo with saying he’s stopping live streaming, without some sort of disclaimer that it’s a prank. Popular though they are, they’re still fairly personal, individual voices. But when InfoWorld ran a story about Microsoft and Yahoo agreeing on a buyout price, they put in an April Fool’s notice, albeit at the end of the article, which ran two pages.
So what about Google?
- No indication, other than the absurdity of it, that Virgle, their alleged joint venture with Virgin to colonize Mars, is a hoax.
- No disclaimer in the Virgle videos from Richard Branson or Larry Page and Sergey Brin that it’s a prank, except maybe Page’s and Brin’s apparent difficulty keeping a straight face (kudos to Branson, clearly the better actor among them).
- No disclaimers in Google’s prank new capabilities to send an email into the past and search into the future.
Is that stuff still OK now that Google is a public company? What if someone doesn’t get the joke and decides to buy Google stock on the basis of those “announcements”? Take a look at their stock price chart. It soared Tuesday. OK, so did the rest of the stock market, but you have to wonder, was any of that at all fueled by speculation from people who simply didn’t get the joke?
It’s unfortunate that there are people who aren’t smart enough to get the joke, but are still investing their money in the stock market. But public companies have a fiduciary responsibility to their investors, no matter their IQ. Hilarious though it was, I have to wonder if Google and any other public companies who pulled April Fool’s pranks without any sort of disclaimer aren’t setting themselves up for potential legal trouble with the SEC.
What do you think? Did Google go too far? Do you know of any other public companies that may have crossed the line with their April Fool’s shenanigans? What will they do to clean up their mess the day after?
Image: Luderbrus via Flickr