If you’re reading the news online on April 1, your defences are probably way up; reading stories with a critical eye and assuming any story that is not obviously true might in fact be a joke. This is going to be the case with media outlets all over the world, but in Iceland, the joke goes even further.
Traditionally, media outlets in Iceland intentionally release one fake news story on April Fool’s, but with the additional criteria that the story must encourage people to show up to a location under the pretext that something out of the ordinary is happening, when in fact nothing is happening at all. A news outlet might, for example, interview the Minister of Justice, who tells the public that he is going to create an Icelandic military and is looking for recruits to show up at a local park to begin physical training (a thing that actually happened). The Grapevine has also joined in the action on occasion.
In many ways, April Fool’s is a lot of fun—for reporters. You have carte blanche to fabricate a story, and it takes skill to walk the line between believable and outrageous, especially knowing that on this day above all others, readers will be on the lookout for false reporting.
On the other hand, this tradition started well before the term “fake news” entered the parlance. We live in an age now where every day is April Fool’s. It also seems a bit cruel to make people travel across town, or to another town altogether, with the promise of something awesome, only to pull the rug out from under them. Plus, with the ready availability of information online, it’s pretty difficult to fool anyone on this day.
For these and other reasons, we likely won’t be doing any April Fool’s stories again. If we do satirical news pieces, it will be really obvious. Satire, after all, is criticism; writing fake news, not so much. But it’s still a quirk of Icelandic takes on foreign holidays worth noting, with the additional caveat that, as readers of the news seeking to be informed, you should probably apply the same vigilance and scrutiny of the news that you use on April 1st all year round.
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