Google Shows What’s Wrong With April Fooling

Google-Fool

April Fool’s Day is essentially “Betray Someone Who Trusts You So You Can Mock Them” Day, and I have come to detest it. The internet has made the tradition less tolerable than ever, with web hoaxes multiplying the victims of “jokes” from individual friends and family members into thousands of strangers.

What is necessary to have an April Fool’s prank “work” is for someone to trust the prankster and ideally to not be especially aware of April Fool’s Day. I have a problem with the latter: imposing a tradition on someone who doesn’t embrace the tradition is unethical. The first part is also ethically troubling when the April Fooler is a person or entity who is obligated to be trustworthy. I would never host an April Fool’s gag on Ethics Alarms, and I have criticized other professionals who have carelessly used their professional blogs to indulge their juvenile senses of humor at the expense of others. No professional should be pulling tricks on clients or anyone who looks to them for facts, advice, experience or truth. That means April Fool’s Day is off limits to doctors, lawyers, journalists, elected officials, serious bloggers, accountants, law enforcement officials, teachers and priests in their official capacities, to name just a few. It also means that corporations should leave the faux holiday from honesty to individuals.

Nothing illustrates the latter principle better than the Google fiasco two days ago. I’ll let Google tell its own story:

Introducing Gmail Mic Drop

Email’s great, but sometimes you just wanna hit the eject button. Like those heated threads at work, when everyone’s wrong except you (obviously). Or those times when someone’s seeking group approval, but your opinion is the only one that matters (amirite?). Or maybe you just nailed it, and there’s nothing more to say (bam). Today, Gmail is making it easier to have the last word on any email with Mic Drop. Simply reply to any email using the new ‘Send + Mic Drop’ button. Everyone will get your message, but that’s the last you’ll ever hear about it. Yes, even if folks try to respond, you won’t see it.

When you drop the mic, your email will also include an explanatory image–just to help set expectations.

Friends and family have been testing Gmail Mic Drop for months, and the response so far has been awesome:

  • “Sending email is so much easier when you don’t have to worry about people responding!”
  • “Mic Drop is a huge improvement over Mute! I can finally let everyone know I’m just not interested.”
  • “My team solves problems so much faster with Mic Drop. In fact, we stopped talking to each other entirely!”

Gmail Mic Drop is launching first on the web, but mobile updates are on the way. So stay tuned, and stay saucy.

UPDATE April 1 1am: Well, it looks like we pranked ourselves this year. Due to a bug, the Mic Drop feature inadvertently caused more headaches than laughs. We’re truly sorry. The feature has been turned off. If you are still seeing it, please reload your Gmail page.
UPDATE April 1 2pm: We heard feedback that some of you were negatively impacted by this feature, so we quickly turned it off late last night. In addition, we are working to bring back Mic-Dropped messages that had subsequent replies to your inbox, so you can read those.We realize many of you use Gmail for very important messages, and we are sorry if Mic Drop was in any way harmful to you. Note that if you’re a Google Apps business, education or government user this feature was never turned on.At Google we have a culture of sharing what we learned when things go wrong, and we want to share these learnings with you:

  1. We should have asked you before turning on the feature, and it should have included a confirmation before sending.
  2. We didn’t anticipate accidental clicks: “Send + Mic Drop” was too close to other send buttons (“Send” as well as “Send & Archive”), which caused confusion. 
  3. And yes there was a bug. It was rare, but possible to press the regular “Send” button and still Mic Drop if you did the following: 
  • Opened a new compose window
  • Pressed the “Send & Mic Drop” button with no recipients and saw error message
  • Edited the message by adding message recipient(s)
  • Pressed the regular send button.

Again, sorry. We love April Fools jokes at Google, and we regret that this joke missed the mark and disappointed you. 

***

What happened? What happened is that Google users rely on the company and its service, and are not prepared for it to be fooling around like this.

Missing the lesson entirely, Mediaite’s J.D. Durkin blamed Google’s victims for problems they encountered with “Mic Drop”:

One person wrote on the Google Help Forum:

“I just sent off an email with my resume to the first person who wanted to interview me in months. I clicked the wrong button and sent it with the mic drop. Well, I guess I’m not getting that job. Words cannot describe how pissed off I am right now. I’m actually shaking. One click, ONE CLICK and I lost the job. Goddamnit. Not funny, google. I’m going to go cry now.”

But I call nonsense on all this. Google isn’t in the wrong here — dopey people who aren’t paying attention are. First of all, if you’re applying to a high-pressure job that’s meaningful to you that you “click the wrong button,” there might be a good reason that you haven’t gotten an interview in months. Maybe you’re crying because you struggled to tell the difference between the standard blue “Send” button that’s been there forever and a bright orange cartoon microphone that you’ve literally never seen.

And I call Ethics Dunce on Durkin. Google users shouldn’t have to navigate poorly thought out gags on Google. They should be able to rely on Google to have safe and useful features 365 days a year. Google is 100% at fault. This is the classic “shame on you for being so gullible and letting me betray your trust” April Fool’s Day rationalization.

Google shouldn’t be playing tricks on its users, or giving them tools to play tricks on others. I hope the company learned its lesson, or at least that its users learned the lesson that Google can’t be trusted.

20 thoughts on “Google Shows What’s Wrong With April Fooling

  1. “April Fool’s Day is off limits to …law enforcement officials…”

    Near the end of my law enforcement career, I was dragged, kicking and screaming, into the social media era. But when I see law enforcement officials and other “public servants” engaged in April Fool jokes, among other online shenanigans, online, my first reaction is, “Don’t they have other, more important duties and real responsibilities to attend to?” I’m not a fan in general, but the workplace -particularly when taxpayers are footing the bill- is not the place for April Foolery. And get off my lawn.

  2. Thanks for writing about this, Jack. I hoped you would.

    The button popped up on the night of March 31st, and my first reaction was, “Get this thing off my email. It’s not useful. I never want to end a conversation. The gif isn’t funny, it’s mediocre and completely immature. There’s too many ways for this to go horribly wrong. What kind of slush-for-brains thought this was a good idea? Why are they allowed to walk around unsupervised and hold down a job like a real adult? Why doesn’t Google have a strategy-user looking at the April Fool’s pranks to check for danger?”

    To the people who think that it’s the users’ own fault for clicking the button, it is technically true that they could have avoided their problems by being more careful, but it’s companies’ job to make things safe and robust. To paraphrase Gru, “My email provider has been leaving little bombs all over my menu and I don’t appreciate it.”

    Perhaps this example can illustrate it more clearly: At night your car company put in a lever next to the turn signal that causes the steering wheel to paint your face like a clown’s and it won’t come off for 24 hours. It’s got a clear note saying what it does. Anyone who thinks that’s an acceptable prank needs to experience childhood again with better parents.

    A good April Fool’s prank should…

    1) not hinder or inconvenience anyone physically or informationally
    2) not make a workflow riskier and less user-friendly (Google violated this)
    3) be obviously ridiculous, especially if it contains any misinformation.
    4) not lead to a change in people’s behavior even if they do believe it
    5) not reduce the dignity or trust of a serious position (a bit subjective, but there is such a thing as taste–college professors can volunteer to be pied in the face; politicians shouldn’t)
    6) ideally, have a lot of craftsmanship and effort put into it

    • You’re list basically covers all the April fools pranks that I actually like. Spaghetti trees anyone?

      The internet also has a history of non-prank April fools jokes, such as sending internet packets via passenger pigeon, which I also like. Of course, someone eventually actually implemented that. I’d still say critera #3 was met though. 🙂

  3. So now I have another good reason not to use g-mail… I know they read every e-mail you send, but never thought Google would be so infantile and irresponsible. I think I’ll change my search engine to Bing.

  4. “imposing a tradition on someone who doesn’t embrace the tradition is unethical.”

    WHAAAT? I thought everyone was supposed to love Christmas as much as you do?

    • I’ll see your “whaaat” and raise you a “Huh?” When someone forces someone to put up a tree and sing carols, then makes you guzzle eggnog, that’s imposing. Making them listen to you say “Merry Christmas!” is not.

      I would also say that a cultural tradition that celebrates kindness, love, generosity, hope, family, nostalgia, and charity is well worth offering for consideration yearly, while one that encourages lies and betrayal of trust for amusement value doesn’t meet ethical utilitarian standards.

      • I’m not saying April Fool’s Day is ethical. I just think Christmas’ legitimacy may be in the eyes of the beholder. If your parents or grandparents were murdered in a gas chamber by those great Catholic and Lutheran Social Nationalists in Martin Luther’s homeland, one might be a little less enthusiastic about non-stop Christmas carols and Nativity scenes in town squares and shopping centers and on the radio for a month or six weeks..

        • Such a person would surely qualify as “someone who does not embrace the tradition.” Forcing bad traditions on people who do not embrace the tradition is unethical I have no problem with. That’s the easy case.

          • I wouldn’t use the “Jesus was a Jew, after all” argument. That doesn’t wash with kids who chased (and sometimes threw things at) other kids down the block shouting “the Jews killed Christ.” When it comes to religion, self-righteousness is the overarching emotion, second only to taking care of business: both my grandfathers lost most of their families in the Holocaust*. One was a dairy farmer whose calendar didn’t include holidays at all; the other had a large store in a good-sized city whose decor reflected each of them, including St. Patrick’s Day but excepting the Hallowe’en symbol of skulls.

            *Holocaust was a word their generation never used, by the way: it was always “to the Totenkopf” — the SS-Totenkopfverbände, or “Death’s Head Units.” And they weren’t referring to Germans but to the Austrian SS who, among other underpublicized atrocities, staffed 75% of the extermination camps.

              • I wasn’t arguing the fact that Jesus was a Jew (before he invented Christianity and ran off and joined the new cult); it was the “after all” part. His birth is being celebrated, yes, there’s the baby right there in the hay, but then the holiday skips over the bris and the bar mitzvah and all that, to the grown-up Jesus as Son of God, having left home, preaching a new religion, divorced from his earthly parents’ identity. I think that as far as Christians OR Jews (or anyone else) are concerned today, it is not Jesus’ Jewishness but his Christianity that is being celebrated. After all.

  5. Try being born on April1. I’ve had 69 years of pranks, gags, etc. Some of them funny, most of them not. But I think I’d rather keep having birthdays than not.

  6. I take it Durkin’s never used an overly sensitive mouse before. Also, the big issue was that the Mic Drop crap would be sent even if you DIDN’T click the button; basically, it wasn’t just a dumb idea, it was buggy too.

  7. April fool jokes should not cause physical or emotional pain.

    In my house growing up my favorite one was throwing a bag of flower onto my older brother while took a shower , then stomping my foot to signal to my younger brother to turn the water off to the house.

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