We explore how charities use humour to raise awareness and how a day of purposeful misinformation reminds us of the need to tackle misinformation
On 1 April 2020, the UK was just over a week into the first national lockdown and the nation was in shock. Charities were scrambling to revise their April content calendars and many steered clear of their planned April Fool’s content, given the public mood.
Charities that did try to make us smile had some truly brilliant ideas to fool us. Surely at a different time Coppa Feel’s announcement of a new programme – Boob pets, specially trained dogs to encourage students to check their puppies – would have had us all giggling or overestimating the superpowers of our canine friends.
We've be itching to tell you about our pawesome new programme we're launching later this year. Meet the Boob-pets, a team of expert pups trained to encourage students to check their chest (and puppies) in schools and educational environments. Watch this space to find out more \uD83D\uDC36 pic.twitter.com/eAlzGTsTl4— CoppaFeel! (@CoppaFeelPeople) April 1, 2020
As we have progressed from the initial shock of the pandemic to a period of acceptance and endurance, lighthearted content has played an increasingly important role in the digital space. With a news agenda dominated by COVID-19, we’re craving alternate more joyful narratives.
Recently Frank PR capitalised on this need with their Weetabix and Baked Beans campaign. Their client Weetabix tweeted an image of Weetabix covered in Baked Beans with the caption: “Why should bread have all the fun, when there’s Weetabix? Serving up @HeinzUK Beanz on bix for breakfast with a twist.”
This prompted a number of other brands to pile on to the tweet with humorous comebacks, including some charities like the RNLI, who replied, “Our volunteer crews are prepared to brave all sorts of windy conditions, but not this”.
The tweet received more than 22K comments, 106K retweets and 134K likes. Frank PR boss, Alex Grier described it as “much-needed humour” six weeks into another national lockdown.
In 2021, charities have some excellent content in store as a welcome reprieve from more than a year in crisis mode, but some are also using the day as a hook for a more serious message.
Capitalising on a few days of boat content in the news with the Evergiven becoming wedged into the banks of the Suez Canal, the RNLI are stretching the imaginations of maritime aficionados with an April Fool’s tweet on extendable foils that turn lifeboats into seafaring hoverboards. If only!
We are pleased to announce that the first lifeboat with extendable foils goes on service this morning! Operated at the touch of a button, the fins allow the lifeboat to lift and skim across the surface of the water at increased speed with improved line of sight. pic.twitter.com/VnXU3irat4— RNLI (@RNLI) April 1, 2021
WWF UK are tweeting about a new animal adoption programme that we all want to be true – adopt a unicorn. Save unicorns from extinction as a result of rainbow-spangled-habitat decline!
WWF plan to confess to their audiences that the programme is fiction to manage disappointment (and possibly save their Supporter Care Team from fielding too many unicorn-related calls).
The unicorn - one of the planet’s most endangered and rarely seen species.— WWF UK \uD83C\uDF0F (@wwf_uk) April 1, 2021
Demand for their spiral horns and loss of their rainbow spangled habitat has led to a catastrophic fall in their numbers. Help us protect them by adopting one today: https://t.co/ItBsyDhB99 pic.twitter.com/DdpcXMVYdA
April Fool’s is the one time of the year when harmless disinformation is acceptable. At a time when accurate public health information is so important, however, social media and the internet at large are swimming with conspiracy theories and harmful counternarratives on the efficacy of vaccine programmes.
Inaccurate information from the anti-vax movement predates the pandemic. The Lancet reported in 2020 that false or discredited information about the measles vaccine has led to a reduction, to 87%, of people receiving the second Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine. In real terms, this means the UK can no longer claim to have eliminated the deadly Measles virus.
Removing false information and prosecuting those who seek to craft and spread misinformation online is challenging on social media because social media platforms are not considered ‘publishers’ under the law. Unlike traditional media where the companies and editors are legally responsible for the information in their publications, on social media the platforms only have a responsibility to ensure that users follow their community standards.
In the face of the ‘infodemic’ around vaccines and other critical issues many countries, such as France and Germany, have introduced domestic laws to hold social media companies to account for hosting false information. In the UK, an Online Harms Bill is set to be introduced to set out a deeper duty of care for social media platforms.
Charities also have a role to play in the health of the information ecosystem. As recognised and trusted authorities on a range of topics, charities can support the flow of accurate information on social media.
For April Fool’s Day this year, the British Red Cross is using its voice to combat misinformation about the Coronavirus vaccine. In recent weeks, they have produced content across their social media channels to bust myths and instill confidence in people who have doubts about the vaccine.
April Fool’s Day is a bit of fun. We all love scouring the headlines and our timelines to spot the jokers. But disinformation isn’t funny and charities can play an important role in combating it and making the internet and social media particularly, a healthier environment for everyone.