Panic! Poison? Terrorism?! When April Fools Disasters Attack
Let’s face it: in a best-case scenario, an April Fools’ Day prank may elicit a mild chuckle from the target of the joke. But the other end of the spectrum can be a nightmare for the emergency management crowd, including mass panic, ecological destruction, or even a potential international incident!
Reader’s Digest collected some of the worst pranks gone wrong in April Fools history, including:
1980 – A Boston TV news producer, Homer Cilley, (actual name) produced a broadcast about a hill in Milton, MA, that was erupting like a volcano, even including fake warnings from then-President Carter and footage from Mt. St. Helens eruptions, causing hundreds of panicked citizens to call local law enforcement – who probably hadn’t finished the broadcast and seen the “April Fools” card at the end. The FCC didn’t find it funny either, and Cilley was fired for breaching regulations.
1986 – An Israeli intelligence officer played an April Fools’ prank reporting an assassination attempt against Lebanese Muslim leader Nabih Berri, which tricked Israel’s defense minister and made its way to both Israeli and Lebanese radio before retractions could be made, causing immediate tensions before the source was sussed out (and likely court-martialed).
2001 – A DJ in England told listeners that a ship that looked suspiciously like the Titanic could be seen from the cliffs at Beachy Head in East Sussex. Hundreds of credulous listeners went to the cliffs to see if they could spot it. But all the foot traffic caused a large crack in the cliff face and a few days later, it fell into the sea.
2002 – Kansas City DJs told their listeners the local water supply had been found to contain high levels of “dihydrogen monoxide” (more commonly known as H20, AKA “water”), whose side effects included sweating, urination, and skin-pruning. After hundreds of panicked calls to the water department and the police, the DJs were criticized and even accused of “terrorism” by one government official.
2010 – When a newspaper in Jordan ran an article claiming a UFO had landed near the town of Jafr, the mayor was perhaps a bit too quick to respond, by immediately calling for the evacuation of 13,000 people.
2016 – Google added a “mic drop” button to their Gmail, which when clicked, sent a GIF of a Minion dropping a microphone to the recipients of the outgoing email and then disabling replies. But because the “mic drop” button had temporarily replaced the then-new “send and archive” button, many users accidentally sent it to bosses, clients, and other people who might not enjoy the joke. According to The Verge, “one Gmail user blames his inadvertent minion-sending for the loss of his writing job, while another says they attached the gif in a serious mail meant for 30 recipients.”