Yesterday was April Fools Day, the one day out of the year that not only accepts good-natured pranks, but encourages them.  Unfortunately, as has happened time and time again, good-natured pranks sometimes can go too far and lead to unintended, and occasionally very negative, consequences.  Think of firework pranks that have led to serious fires or fake break-ups that have accidentally uncovered truths about relationships. 

The reality is that each year, some pranks get out of hand and lead to bad repercussions. 

In today’s digital world, April Fools Day pranks that go bad can quickly be picked up by online media and spread online within a couple hours, even less.  In the end, one prank gone awry can lead to terrible consequences for the prankster’s online reputation.

Sure enough, this year two unfortunate organizations and one celebrity experienced what it means to have a prank go bad and what it means to their online reputations.  

1. The Manchester Police in England.

The police are not usually known for their April Fools pranks, especially ones that involve their relationship with the public.  There’s probably a good reason for that, as the Manchester Police discovered yesterday

Yesterday, the Greater Manchester Police Radcliffe department decided to prank the public by staging a vote for the release of prisoners.  As tweeted by the Manchester Police, those prisoners who had the most votes would be released from prison.

Of course, this was all a fun prank by the police department.  And naturally everyone who saw the police department’s tweet understood it as simply a prank … or not.  Those who weren’t confused about the truth behind the police department’s tweet were outraged by the warped sense of humor of the prank.  Needless to say, the Manchester Police are still trying to mend their public relations on this one.  

2.  The University of Virginia’s Cavalier Daily student newspaper.

If your campus had just experienced unrest as a result of a violent arrest of a black student by white officers, that campus would probably want to stay clear of pranks that have anything to do with race and ethnicity.  Unfortunately, the Cavalier Daily, University of Virginia’s student paper, didn’t seem to understand why it wouldn’t be in their best interest to make off-coloured racial jokes in their April Fools edition.  

Many didn’t see the sense of humor when they read the following headline in the paper yesterday, “ABC agents tackle Native American student outside Bodo’s Bagels”.  Or this tagline, “Students decry ‘Trail of Schmears’ as marginalization of minorities reaches new low.”  All to say, anger over the newspaper’s April Fools edition spread quickly on the internet and forced the Cavalier Daily to issue a formal apology.  

3.  Seattle Seahawks Linebacker Bruce Irvin.

Linebacker Bruce Irvin provides our last example of April Fools jokes gone bad this year.  There are certain subjects that make prime picking grounds for pranks.  Drinking and driving is not one of them, as Bruce Irvin quickly realized after he prank tweeted yesterday that he had been caught drinking and driving.  His tweet sparked a quick outrage online and forced Irvin to issue a public mea culpa.

One of the common elements in the majority of these bad pranks is that they involved inappropriate tweets. It reminds us that when you are Tweeting a message, it’s public and can be quickly re-tweeted to hundreds, if not thousands of people.  Always think through your post before hitting that Tweet button.

Matt Earle

Founder & President

Matt Earle, Founder of Reputation.ca, is a leading Canadian expert on online reputation management with over 15 years of hands on experience working in the space. Mr. Earle’s educational background includes an H.BSc from the University of Toronto and certification as a Google Professional. His expertise has been acknowledged through national television appearances on CBC, PBS and CTV, being a guest host on CBC radio, and numerous quotes in print and online media.