Google April Fools prank misuses online influence

Technology and the Internet have taken April Fool’s hoaxes to another level. Who needs to go to the trouble of slapping a “KICK ME” sign on a friend’s back when it is just as funny (and so much more convenient) to pass along a Rickroll? Consumers know this, and so do the many companies that attempt to join the day of fun. Take Google, for example. The technology giant has understood the value of a good joke since its start-up days – launching a new hoax every April 1st since 2000. Most of the time, the pranks are taken in stride. Not so this year.

The 2016 prank feature was called “Google Mic Drop.” If a user composed an email and hit the button “Send + Mic Drop,” a GIF of a Despicable Me Minion dropping a microphone would attach itself to the email and emails from the conversation would no longer be received by the sender.

As Google wrote in a blog post announcing the feature, “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.”

This was not well-received. People complained that accidentally clicking the button cost them important customers and jobs, or embarrassed them when the GIF was attached to serious correspondence. By the end of the day, Google pulled “Mic Drop” and issued an apology to its users.

This whole fiasco has raised several questions. Is it acceptable for a ubiquitous corporation like Google to pull pranks like this? Does Google deserve the backlash it has received? Most importantly, why Minions?

Personally, I disagree with those who believe Google should cease and desist when it comes to these hijinks in general. Companies and corporations have always utilized rituals and trends in attempts to reach consumers. The Internet makes it easier for them to do this. For an example of what I mean, see the Denny’s Tumblr account. It is a clear example of what happens when a company uses familiar memes to try and reach “the kids.” Such ploys are prime advertising, and everyone knows it. So why should Google be held to a different standard because of its size? April Fool’s Day is a known time for people and businesses to pull pranks, and customers should recognize that.

That being said, Google probably deserves criticism for this particular prank – mostly because it’s really not funny. Past Google pranks, Denny’s memes and the like succeed because their audience is not actually hurt by the joke. Most of the hoaxes Google has presented in the past 16 years have been considerate of users. For example, 2007 saw the homepage changed to advertise Google Paper, a cutting-edge service where Google would type up emails and send them to homes via traditional mail for free. In 2008, Google launched “Google Calendar is Feeling Lucky,” which supposedly gave users the option to set up a date with a random celebrity. These features were obviously fake, and the only negative consequence in believing the pranks was the mild chagrin one might have felt after falling for them. I see a difference between this sort of thing and pranks that actually alter people’s correspondence or affect their ability to communicate, as “Mic Drop” appears to have done.

But frankly, we have a bigger problem to worry about, which brings us to the final question: why Minions? The implication that this prank might have merely been product placement for Despicable Me, and that Google and the studio executives behind Despicable Me think we as a population find the most joy in watching sexless, ageless yellow beans running around spewing gibberish and punching each other is frightening. Forget questions of corporate responsibility; I find the Minion issue most creepy of all.

All this to say, please be wary of what you read on the Internet, regardless of who it comes from and what day of the year it is. Become an intelligent consumer. Maybe then April Fool’s pranks can remain the lighthearted fun they were meant to be (provided that they are actually high-quality – and don’t involve Minions).

Dylan Walker ’18 (walker1@stolaf.edu) is from Mountain Grove, MO. They major in classics with a concentration in film studies.

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