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Coronavirus forces crackdown on April Fools' Day capers

No April Fools...
No April Fools... © David Coffey

Cancelling the tradition of tall tales has the aroma of an April Fools' jest. But tech giant Google has told staff to steer clear of the day's usual tomfoolery as the world suffers the effects of the coronavirus.

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Google said in the prelude to 1 April that it had suspended its annual April Fools' tradition out of respect for all those fighting the Covid-19 pandemic.

"Our highest goal right now is to be helpful to people, so let's save the jokes for next April, which will undoubtedly be a whole lot brighter than this one," it said in an internal email to staff.

In previous years Google has advertised jobs at a new research centre on the moon, turned Google Maps into a game of Where's Waldo - also known as Where's Wally - and claimed its search technology uses trained pigeons to rank pages.

Tone

Google's move for sobriety emerged as governments said there would be crackdowns on any misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic which has killed more than 40,000 people worldwide.

Thai authorities said that April Fools' Day jokes about the virus could be punished under a law carrying a sentence of up to five years in prison.

"It's against the law to fake having Covid-19 this April Fools' Day," the government said on Twitter.

Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen took to Facebook to tell people not to joke about the virus, adding that anyone spreading rumours or false information could be jailed for up to three years. Fines of up to 90,000 euros have also been threatened.

Crackdown

In India, Maharashtra state's cyber security unit said it would take legal action against anyone spreading fake news on April Fools' Day.

"The state govt won't allow anyone to spread rumours/panic on #Corona," Maharashtra home minister Anil Deshmukh tweeted.

He said he had instructed the authorities to act swiftly against anyone found guilty of sending out inaccurate information.

With people relying on the internet and media for vital information about coronavirus, there are fears that jokes could fan the spread of misinformation.

From drinking cow urine to sleeping by chopped onions, myths about how people can catch and cure Covid-19 are circulating widely.

The World Health Organization has described the unmarshalled flow of data as an "infodemic", which could increase the spread of the virus among vulnerable people.

Emma Batha: Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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