The coronavirus has canceled April Fools’ Day. Countless businesses and websites have decided to forego pranks this year. Meanwhile, a handful of countries have even outlawed jokes related to the coronavirus.
Such steps are arguably justified, seeing as how we’re living in a time of unprecedented panic and hysteria. However, canceling April Fools’ is sad indictment of how society, in an age of mass digital media, has lost the ability to separate fact and fiction.
It’s also an alarming indication of how little we know for certain about the coronavirus.
April 1 is usually April Fools’ Day. But not this year.
A number of countries are threatening prosecution or fines for coronavirus-related pranks.
In Thailand, Covid-19-themed jokes could bring you a jail sentence of up to five years . In Taiwan, you can receive a $100,000 fine . And in India, states have threatened to take legal action against April Fools’ pranksters .
And it’s not only governments. Business such as Heinz and Lego have announced they won’t be doing anything for April Fools’ this year . Even Google won’t be making any of its famed April Fools’ announcements today .
Basically, fear of spreading misinformation about the coronavirus has canceled April Fools’ Day. And it seems that most people on the web agree with canceling the annual custom.
Indeed, misleading posts have circulated widely on social media claiming that the likes of garlic, silver, and chlorine dioxide can help fight the coronavirus . Such claims are all untrue. Not only that, but they could put people’s lives at risk.
Still, while the cancelation of April Fools’ Day is perhaps necessary this year, it’s a sad reflection on the state of society and mass communication.
It indicates that we’ve lost the ability to separate fact from fiction. In an age of social and digital media, too many of us can no longer assess whether a claim is likely to be true or false. We can’t check the source of claims. We can’t evaluate whether a source is likely to be biased or interested. And we can’t even check whether other — reputable — sources are saying the same thing.
That’s why we had to cancel April Fools’ Day. Because on seeing a sensational claim about the coronavirus, too many of us would have accepted it without a second thought. And we would have spread it, like a virus.
Also, the cancelation of April Fools’ Day indicates something important — and scary — about the coronavirus pandemic itself. That is, we still don’t know enough about COVID-19. Even trusted scientists and organizations haven’t understood it fully.
What well-established facts we have about the coronavirus are minimal. Meanwhile, everything else remains provisional, uncertain and sometimes confused. That’s why misinformation has been able to thrive during the pandemic. Because there’s a vacuum.
So April Fools’ Day’s cancelation isn’t just about our digital illiteracy. It’s also about our failure to get a grip on the coronavirus.