Maybe yesterday’s April Fool’s prank was a little too effective. I turned off the comments before publishing the story, so no readers would give the game away too quickly by shouting April Fool! first thing in the morning, but it found a life of its own on social media.
I’m from the U.K., where April Fools is an artform, and our Founding Editor, fellow Brit Rob Harris, appreciated a good joke on Canada Moto Guide more than most. It’s a tradition here, but there are a few rules: It must be believable, but absurd; it must have at least one clue in the story that it’s not for real; and the prank must not be confessed to until after noon.
In this case, the idea that motorcyclists might be banned from Nova Scotia’s Cabot Trail is all too believable, but the dumb part was the reason: because loud, lumbering bikes are slowing down the RVs. Both Zac and I have visited the Cabot Trail many times and we know its greatest curse is from the massive 60-footers and CanaDreams that struggle on the hills. The idea that a parade of loud bikes would be holding them back is just absurd.
And yet … “I must be a mixed up American because rarely do I find motorcyclists being at fault for holding up traffic, especially RV traffic,” wrote a reader at K1600Forum.com. “Canada must have some well tuned RV’s that can carve corners faster than a motorcycle. For some reason I think this ‘holding up RV’ers’ complaint was thrown into the mix as a way of piling on from the motorcycle haters. If you don’t like motorcycles, that’s fine, but motorcycles holding up RV traffic????? That’s a real stretch in my world.”
For clues, we figured comments from “Philip McAvity” would set off an alarm bell. If not, then a mention of “Cleo Femoon,” the RV rental person, whose name is an anagram for “fool me once,” would suffice. And just to be sure, we threw in “Angus MacAskill, a resident of Englishtown,” which was a direct reference to the famous Giant of Cape Breton and a star attraction of P.T. Barnum’s circus. But no. Instead, we heard from Lester MacAskill: “My father is Angus MacAskill … Our family is getting messages and texts from some pissed-off people! Careless article!!!”
More to the point, we also heard from Nova Scotia Tourism, which was fielding calls from concerned motorcyclists ready to cancel their vacations. “Sometimes satire is a bit too good,” wrote Cynthia diplomatically, but added, “I like the bit about Starbucks in Sydney.” At that point, in the early afternoon, I added an April Fool signoff to the story and turned on the comments. It didn’t take long for Dan to weigh in, telling us he’d shared the post and urged riders to boycott Nova Scotia: “I am of the firm opinion now that you are a joke,” he wrote in all caps. “No longer any credibility.”
April Fool is a tradition at Canada Moto Guide. Last year, we wrote about Harley-Davidson’s extra loud electric bike (which was picked up this year by our friends at RideApart), and the year before, the Honda Revoltus. Years ago, I wrote a ridiculous story in the Toronto Star about mandatory seatbelts on motorcycles and worried all kinds of people. It was great.
This year, Zac and I went back and forth on the idea of the Cape Breton ban. We originally thought about reporting that motorcycles would only be allowed to ride clockwise while RVers could only drive anticlockwise, due to congestion – in hindsight, that would probably have been a better gag.
Not everyone likes April Fools, though. This year, Microsoft told its employees to not participate in any hoaxes or stunts. “Sometimes the outcomes are amusing and sometimes they’re not. Either way, data tells us these stunts have limited positive impact and can actually result in unwanted news cycles,” wrote marketing chief Chris Capossela in an internal memo to Microsoft staff.
“Considering the headwinds the tech industry is facing today, I’m asking all teams at Microsoft to not do any public-facing April Fools’ Day stunts. I appreciate that people may have devoted time and resources to these activities, but I believe we have more to lose than gain by attempting to be funny on this one day.”
It’s not just the tech industry that’s facing headwinds – it’s all media and information, constantly lambasted by accusations of fake news! whenever its subject doesn’t like the coverage. Considering that April Fool stunts give a certain legitimacy to fake news, it takes a stronger mindset than usual these days to go ahead and publish.
(It doesn’t help when the mainstream media gets taken in, either. MSNAutos – a Microsoft publication, ouch – ran our story briefly yesterday morning before realizing it for what it was and taking it down. “We have a mandate not to run pranks today, as it undermines credibility and honesty with our readers (especially in this era of ‘fake news’),” explained MSN Canada’s Angela Forgeron. “Unfortunately, your piece made it past our editor this morning since he said there were not enough obvious clues to know it was a prank … but we pulled it once someone on our team flagged it as ‘likely fake’ since it was buzzing on motorcycle forums he visits.”)
So maybe in this time of Fake News accusations, there’s no such thing anymore as a good prank, not even just once a year. I hope not, though. At Canada Moto Guide, we’ll keep the tradition going as long as we can. Consider yourself warned!