The Anatomy of a Successful April Fools Joke (Or Don’t Any of You do Fact Checking?)

Photo by Sean MacEntee
Photo by Sean MacEntee

With April Fools Day on Sunday, I started thinking about how to successfully prank everyone. There’s only been one successful prank I’ve participated in during my lifetime and it eventually ended up on Mashable – because, you know, Mashable is such a beacon of great fact-checking journalism. Zing! ;)

Realizing that I had two awesome calendar quirks upon me – that AFD was this coming Sunday, a weekend, and that the end of the government Q2 was today… I had plausible cover for a real awesome prank.

So I texted my good friend Amanda at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and floated an idea past her. I needed an alibi and some cover in the event I started to get questioned. My idea is that I was moving back to DC to take a senior level role at a federal agency. Given that she has such a role at USDA, the ruse went from there.

A made up position (but one that sounded totally reasonable to the naked eye) – Deputy Director of Online Operations – was concieved. Since it was the end of Q2, I had to make the decision by close of business today. My cover would include “budget cuts” and “workforce consolidation” as reasons for a new position.

The next step in purpotrating this lie was to ensure all the closest people in my life bought the lie. I could clue them in to a lie, but too many cooks in the kitchen could spoil the whole thing so I wanted the closest people buying it.

So I told my roommate and spun a story she believed. Then I told my friend Mike Neumann who bought in hook, line and sinker. I did let my girlfriend in on the secret since she would be likely to panic.

I reinforced the story again this morning with my roommate, referencing a conference call and a “letter of intent” from USDA. I don’t think the USDA even issues Letters of Intent and it’s the Office of Personel Management who actually does hiring on behalf of agencies and suggesting I had to make this decision today and that “it was a hard one” and “I really don’t want to leave Austin”. I knew when she started consoling my dog that she was thoroughly convinced. Good job, Aaron. Phase 1 complete.

Having suitably hooked my friends, it was time to start rumor dripping. IT started with an innocuos status update on Facebook (since, you know, that’s for family and friends and not the world): “Well, Austin… it’s been a fun 2 years. I’ll see you at SXSW, I guess”. In comments, I (intentionally) float DC as my destination but played coy on details citing “a gag order”. Enough information to be compelling, but also enough to maintain the cover of my story. Everyone buys in. Phase 2, done!

Awhile later I make my “official announcement“. This part of the prank is meant to provide even more plausible information, laced with real life fact. Every good lie has an element of truth. I describe the role in words that are believable… that it’s mostly technical, that it involves WordPress, that in Austin I’ve taken up more healthy eating habits – something that plays directly into the mission of USDA.

Since this was my “announcement”, I shared it back on Facebook as its own status update, as well as updated the original “float post” so that those who already saw my update would see the new update. I also tweeted it out to my 9500+ Twitter followers.

Everyone bites. No one questions anything. No one even thinks about AFD. Phase 3 complete.

The key to this joke was timing. To be plausible, I had to do it today. The government doesn’t work on the weekend and if I waited until Monday… my opportunity would be squandered because everyone would have their AFD defenses up. But 2 days before… no one saw it coming.

Additionally, it’s a prank. I don’t want this being on the internet forever and a day. I ensured the proper meta tags were added to my post so Google won’t index it and no one will be confused later down the road. Ha! But then, no one looks at source code. ;)

I’m sorry I’m not coming back to DC. Actually, I’m not. But y’all shouldn’t believe everything you read on the internet. :)