Backlash to SoundCloud hoax proves that April Fool’s Day pranks need to tread a fine line between absurdity and believability.

The tradition of light-hearted hoaxes on April 1st stretches back nearly two centuries, but for online media outlets and web-focussed businesses the custom has taken on new meaning in the 21st century. Companies’ attempts at April Fools’ Day humour are now a potential source of even greater publicity than ever before, but with that potential comes the scope for a much less easily controlled side-effect: the wrath of the comments section.

Get the April Fools’ Day prank right and you’ll win yourself a bunch of free media coverage. Get it slightly wrong and you risk pissing off legions of customers.

This year, the most embarrassing own goal came courtesy of SoundCloud, whose Dropometer prank backfired massively.

Shortly after the clock struck midnight at SoundCloud’s Berlin HQ, users of the service began to notice a new graphic appearing on their tracks. The Dropometer feature pointed to a random spot on the waveform and simply announced, ‘Here’s the Drop™’.

skrillex

The response from SoundCloud’s users probably wasn’t quite what the company expected. Instead of seeing the funny side and spotting that the Dropometer was a hoax, most users were apoplectic with rage at what they assumed was yet another unwanted change to the service. Many SoundCloud users have already expressed their discontent over recent ‘upgrades’ to the website, from the introduction of the New SoundCloud update to the automatic copyright detection service blocking artists’ own original material.

A minority of users spotted the joke, but for most the reaction ranged from ‘WTF?’ to ‘FFS’:

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A similar fate befell Fact Mag, who printed a spoof news story reporting a new Boards Of Canada album, prompting furious backlash from BOC fans. Fact‘s reaction? To post an article gloating about it.

Other hoaxes fared slightly better. XLR8R went into overdrive, publishing stories about Daft Punk cancelling their album, Skrillex’s guide to ‘underground Detroit BANGERZZ’ and BenUFO quitting house music (“It’s all a bunch of shit, innit?”) to play Borgore-style brostep. The articles were deleted later in the day.

Screen shot 2013-04-02 at 13.15.25

Mixmag reported that Justin Bieber was set to launch a DJ career, turning his back on exploring exciting new positions to wear his trousers, threatening to beat up paparazzi or whatever else it is he does these days.

The backlash to SoundCloud’s prank should be a stark warning to any companies planning their own hoaxes for next year. Why exactly did it go down so badly? Perhaps it’s something to do with SoundCloud’s global user-base. Reading a spoof article in your second language, the humour might easily be lost in translation. Equally, senses of humour are culture-specific; April Fools’ Day is fairly well known internationally, but what makes one culture cry with laughter may not necessarily amuse another. Of course, you could argue that SoundCloud users (and maybe even Boards Of Canada fans?) just need to lighten up and stop taking things so seriously…

But, most importantly, the nature of the prank is critical. SoundCloud’s hoax plays fast and loose with the company’s own reputation as a credible, reliable music platform. The best pranks straddle that thin line between the absurd and the believable. For many SoundCloud users, the idea that the company would introduce a feature like the Dropometer was clearly just too believable. At a time when users are already up in arms at recent changes to the site, that was probably a bad idea.

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2nd April, 2013

Comments

  • Where’s the drop?

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  • Some music people = Serious sense of humour lack. That said, the two jokes highlighted weren’t funny.

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  • this just in: people with no sense of humour over-react to light hearted (unfunny) joke made by a company who do more good in one day than they’ve done in their life to date.

    fucking grow up people. everyone’s doing cringe jokes for April fool’s. should be be re-named SEO whore day.

    get it into perspective. fucking bell ends

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  • When I first saw it on March 31st, I was a bit annoyed. When I read the fake press release on April 1st, I chuckled a bit but was mostly just relieved that it was, indeed, a prank. The reference to finding the emotional climax of a This American Life episode left little doubt that it was just a joke.

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  • What Ali said

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  • o dear soundcloud

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  • haha quality article/piece. Still I can see why/how the soundcloud one went down like a lead balloon and the ‘old’ look/way it worked was indeed just fine I agree the angry mob user base on that one. Thanks for the roundup attack, I have been/still am Ill over easter and april 1st so missed it all

    Nice one and best to all

    Dean

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  • Here’s an interesting bit of social psychology: users are taking it upon themselves to insert a ” <— HERE'S THE DROP" comment at a particular spot on the waveform to actually emulate the implementation of this feature. I've seen it in more than a handful of waveforms lately. At first I supposed it was just humor, but now I think people are taking it seriously.

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  • Ali, please tell me you are talking about any other company but SoundCloud…..when a company’s policies time and time again are like having jokes played on you, then yes, we a sense of humour lack.

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