The Anatomy of a Successful April Fools Joke (Or Don’t Any of You do Fact Checking?)

Photo by Sean MacEntee

Photo by Sean MacEntee

With April Fools Day on Sunday, I started thinking about how to successfully prank everyone. There’s only been one successful prank I’ve participated in during my lifetime and it eventually ended up on Mashable – because, you know, Mashable is such a beacon of great fact-checking journalism. Zing! ;)

Realizing that I had two awesome calendar quirks upon me – that AFD was this coming Sunday, a weekend, and that the end of the government Q2 was today… I had plausible cover for a real awesome prank.

So I texted my good friend Amanda at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and floated an idea past her. I needed an alibi and some cover in the event I started to get questioned. My idea is that I was moving back to DC to take a senior level role at a federal agency. Given that she has such a role at USDA, the ruse went from there.

A made up position (but one that sounded totally reasonable to the naked eye) – Deputy Director of Online Operations – was concieved. Since it was the end of Q2, I had to make the decision by close of business today. My cover would include “budget cuts” and “workforce consolidation” as reasons for a new position.

The next step in purpotrating this lie was to ensure all the closest people in my life bought the lie. I could clue them in to a lie, but too many cooks in the kitchen could spoil the whole thing so I wanted the closest people buying it.

So I told my roommate and spun a story she believed. Then I told my friend Mike Neumann who bought in hook, line and sinker. I did let my girlfriend in on the secret since she would be likely to panic.

I reinforced the story again this morning with my roommate, referencing a conference call and a “letter of intent” from USDA. I don’t think the USDA even issues Letters of Intent and it’s the Office of Personel Management who actually does hiring on behalf of agencies and suggesting I had to make this decision today and that “it was a hard one” and “I really don’t want to leave Austin”. I knew when she started consoling my dog that she was thoroughly convinced. Good job, Aaron. Phase 1 complete.

Having suitably hooked my friends, it was time to start rumor dripping. IT started with an innocuos status update on Facebook (since, you know, that’s for family and friends and not the world): “Well, Austin… it’s been a fun 2 years. I’ll see you at SXSW, I guess”. In comments, I (intentionally) float DC as my destination but played coy on details citing “a gag order”. Enough information to be compelling, but also enough to maintain the cover of my story. Everyone buys in. Phase 2, done!

Awhile later I make my “official announcement“. This part of the prank is meant to provide even more plausible information, laced with real life fact. Every good lie has an element of truth. I describe the role in words that are believable… that it’s mostly technical, that it involves WordPress, that in Austin I’ve taken up more healthy eating habits – something that plays directly into the mission of USDA.

Since this was my “announcement”, I shared it back on Facebook as its own status update, as well as updated the original “float post” so that those who already saw my update would see the new update. I also tweeted it out to my 9500+ Twitter followers.

Everyone bites. No one questions anything. No one even thinks about AFD. Phase 3 complete.

The key to this joke was timing. To be plausible, I had to do it today. The government doesn’t work on the weekend and if I waited until Monday… my opportunity would be squandered because everyone would have their AFD defenses up. But 2 days before… no one saw it coming.

Additionally, it’s a prank. I don’t want this being on the internet forever and a day. I ensured the proper meta tags were added to my post so Google won’t index it and no one will be confused later down the road. Ha! But then, no one looks at source code. ;)

I’m sorry I’m not coming back to DC. Actually, I’m not. But y’all shouldn’t believe everything you read on the internet. :)

There is a Season, Turn, Turn, Turn: Back to DC.

Back when I moved to Austin in 2010, I was thrilled to be leaving the rat race that was DC. I was looking forward to a place when people did not watch presidential speeches to joint sessions of Congress in bars as if they were the Super Bowl and instead sat on patios with their friends eating chips and queso and drinking local craft beers while listening to live music.

I looked forward to a cheaper and easier way of living where summers were hot but not nearly as unpleasant and winters did not bring 50″ of snow in just a few days. It was a new life with new opportunities and new experiences far away from the northeast where I had lived almost all of my life.

I did not expect it would come to an end short of 2 years after I made that bold move. But it’s coming to an end, barring some unforeseen hitch.

I’m moving back to DC in the middle of July. Beginning mid-may, I will become a Fed. You heard that right… a Fed. I’m pleased to have accepted a position within Department of Agriculture to become Deputy Director of Online Operations – a far more senior position than I could have imagined since my only Federal job experience was on the corporate contracting side with Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and CSC. However, I am uniquely qualified for this role.

The role is a new one that lies somewhere between an operations style role surrounding technical execution and communications where I’ll have my hand in some of the online community aspect. Mostly, it’s a technical role though. And WordPress is heavily at play here.

In a way, this is a dream job. To be able to use my WordPress experience to help direct a portion of public policy related to critical infrastructure around some of America’s greatest domestic assets, enabling analysts to develop partnerships with state and local school food programs, among other things… it’s incredibly sobering.

So while I don’t start in DC until July 16, I’ll be beginning my role on May 14 at the USDA office here in Austin.

Regrettably, I have to move, but I do so with a tremendous amount of perspective and new experiences from Austin to live with. One thing I take away from Austin is the importance of locally grown vegetables and grass-fed beef… this perspective will help make this role even more effective.

Thank you to all my friends here in Austin. I’ll be back. I love this place too much not to come back.