You can fool some of the people ...

You can fool some of the people ...

Posted April 3rd, 2011 by debritz

Among the many traditional April Fools' Day jokes in print and online publications last Friday was this item in The Bangkok Post. The story, claming pop star Justin Bieber was giving up his career and coming to live in Bangkok to be with an unnamed "Thai girlfriend", generated a lot of interest from readers of the paper and online visitors (as I write, there were 208 tweets and 1200 Facebook shares for that story - a huge number for the Bangkok Post site*). What surprised me is that many of the Twitterers and Facebookers believed the story to be true, at least at first. Only one or two tweets that I read immediately recognised it for an April Fools joke, and several others suggested that it might be a prank. Even some people I spoke to who had only read the story in the newspaper said they initially believed it to be true. All this, despite:
1) In print, this huge scoop was only on page 3 of the second section ("Life"), with no pointer from the front page of either that section or the main newspaper. Online, it was not featured on the front page and could only be found through the menu system (or - and I suspect this accounts for many hits - by Google searches*).
2) The story starts off with an improbable premise, then adds some plausible detail, but quickly becomes ridiculous. A reference to Mark Zuckerberg, who did attend a wedding in Thailand recently, adds some credibility (although I doubt that he and Bieber are friends, as the story states), but that's about it. The story then suggests that Bieber and the girl had a chaperoned date, where her mother sat between them at the movies, and that the star would record an album of Thai-language love songs. It also makes fun of his reported use of the Auto-Tune software, and suggests that a superstar who can sell-out stadiums would perform live at a small jazz club and an expat pub.
3) The last paragraph clearly indicates it's the kind of story that could only appear "on this date" - i.e. April 1.
So, what to make of all this?
1) Obviously, it struck a chord with many people. Some readers probably wanted it to be true, or were so shocked that it might be true that they didn't read it in a discerning way.
2) As all newspaper people know, or ought to know, readers seldom make it all the way to the end of even a relatively short story, and they often don't fully comprehend what they read.
3) It was all good fun and nobody got hurt.
4) And for those who are asking the by-now obvious question, the answer is: Yes, it was.

* Bieber was, obviously, chosen deliberately because he's a hot topic online and off.