The first of April is normally a day of frothy fun, where newspapers and brands compete to produce the best jokes and the worst puns to fool their readers.
But this year some of the more complex pranks did not go quite to plan.
Google’s April Fools’ Day prank had to be pulled within hours after some users complained a new feature installed in their email service, Gmail, might have cost them their jobs or reputations.
The stunt was the “Gmail Mic Drop”, an augmented send button which attached a gif animation clip of a crown-wearing Minion character from the film Despicable Me dropping a microphone like a brash rap star, which instantly ended an email exchange, muting all replies from other participants in the conversation.
“Everyone will get your message, but that’s the last you’ll ever hear about it,” Google said in a blogpost announcing the feature. “Yes, even if folks try to respond, you won’t see it.”
But some horrified users began to realise they had pressed the button by mistake, attaching it to professional emails.
One, posted on the company’s Gmail help forum, wrote: “Thanks to Mic Drop I just lost my job. I am a writer and had a deadline to meet. I sent my articles to my boss and never heard back from her. I inadvertently sent the email using the ‘Mic Drop’ send button. I just woke up to a very angry voicemail from her which is how I found out about this ‘hilarious’ prank.”
Another Gmail user tweeted an example of what could go wrong, supposing that he had accidentally attached the Minion gif to a client at his funeral home, and another sent it to 30 business contacts.
Google swiftly turned off the feature. “Well, it looks like we pranked ourselves this year,” the company said. “Due to a bug, the MicDrop feature inadvertently caused more headaches than laughs.”
Another website found itself embarrassed over what it claimed was an April Fool security breach – an article published on Irish news site KildareNow claiming a man called had rigged a local landmark with explosives, intending to rename it the Hill of Allah.
The editorial team said it recognised the article was “extremely insensitive” and apologised. “KildareNow would like to point out that the story was completely unauthorised and was not posted by a member of the editorial team,” it said in a statement, adding many readers were “rightly offended by the article”.
In the British press, Brexit was the stand-out theme. The Guardian claimed an exclusive that the royal family were to make a dramatic intervention in the EU referendum debate, with Prince Philip at the helm of the royal bid to remain.
The Daily Express said EU bureaucrats were demanding the incorporation of the ring of stars on the union jack, the Telegraph mooted an England football ban from Euro 2016 after Brexit, and the Indy said Scotland and Wales could form an independent country if the UK opted to leave, with a bridge linking the two nations via the Isle of Man.
The EU referendum was highlighted in the thousands of attempts by businesses and brands to cash in on April Fools’ Day, including Confused.com’s claim that traffic lights would go red, white and blue if Britain backed Brexit, Dominos touting an EU-regulation compliant pizza-making robot, and travel site Holiday Extras mocking up a confusing Heathrow airport system to be installed if the UK voted to leave.
Even the Ukip leader, Nigel Farage, piled in, joking on Twitter that he was now backing the remain campaign.
April Fools’ Day is not historically an international holiday but countries around the world have celebrated a day of pranking.
The Paris metro operator RATP renamed more than a dozen metro station in honour of the day, with Opéra station named Aperitif and Crimée changed to Crimée Châtiment in honour of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. In France, as in several other countries in Europe, 1 April is historically “April fish” (poissons d’avril) rather than April fools, with the traditional prank limited to children attaching coloured paper fish to unsuspecting adults’ backs.
Germany’s embassy announced the country would seek for its rugby team to join the Six Nations tournament, complete with a confusing joke about chickens’ laying rugby ball-shaped eggs, which may have made more sense in the original German.
In China, however, web users were warned about the danger of spoof news in a Weibo post by state news service Xinhua, which condemned “the west’s so-called ‘April Fools’’”.
The occasion apparently “does not conform with our nation’s cultural traditions, nor does it conform with the core values of socialism”, the post read. “Don’t believe rumours, don’t create rumours and don’t spread rumours,” it said. Perhaps the post itself was meant in jest, however. It was signed off with a smiley emoticon.