We have coordinated on April 1 as the date where everyone gets to indulge their latent desire to say something false and hope that it gets believed.  The problem of course is that as a result nothing you say on April 1 is believed.  Credibility has a public good aspect to it and the social optimum would conserve enough of it so that at least some of us could feed our hilarious public deception jones.

(You might argue otherwise.  By reducing credibility across the board we set the stage for the truly exceptional liars to show their stuff fooling people even though everyone was expecting them to do exactly that.)

It soon becomes tempting to start making up stuff on the day before April 1, and then eventually sooner.  Whether, how, and why this unfolds depends on just what are the basic forces at work here, a question about which we can only theorize.  We know by revealed preference that people want to say made-up stuff.  But its more than that, you want people to believe it, pass it on and then get called out for believing a fake story.  And the best kind of April Fools story is the kind that is ex post so obviously fake that the foolee looks especially gullible.

All of these suggest that April 1 is the least ideal day for April Fools.  So then we can ask why are April Fools pranks perpetrated on April 1 and not some other day? Is it because April 1 gives you reputational cover for reporting bogus stories?  It sounds like a good theory, and if it were true we would not have to worry about March 31 Fools and the eventual Year-Round Fools. But it doesn’t seem to survive closer scrutiny.  If my reputation for legitimate reporting is safe for that one day it must be because nobody expects me to do legitimate reporting that day.  But then April 1 is the last day I would want to be dropping my April Fools.

Instead I think its something more subtle.  The perfect April Fools prank works by first roping in the reader but then slowly revealing clues that remind her that its April Fools and you have been had.  April 1 plays a crucial role in this development. The Reveal would not come with the same impact on any July 19.  Indeed the best April Fools pranks tell you the date somewhere along the way.  Its how you say to the reader “look at you, you forgot about April Fools, and I got you” without actually saying that.  And it provides ammunition when he blindly passes the story on and his friends can say “check the date.”

So April Foolers need the following epistemic infrastructure for their pranks:  1) The possibility of surprise, 2) The expectation of surprise.  And clearly it cannot be an equilibrium to have both of these if the source of #2 is to be contained in a single date April 1.  Once there is too much of #2, there’s precious too little of #1.

And that’s when the pre-emption begins.  By publishing your April Fool on March 31, you get more of 1), and still pretty much the same amount of 2).  Until of course everybody starts doing that and the unraveling continues.  (We are already getting close.)

There is one bright side to all of this.  When everybody has come to expect that whatever you say on April 1 is false, you may indeed no longer be able to fool people into believing something you made up.  But the flipside is a welcome opportunity for many wishing to come clean at minimum cost.  You now have a day when you can tell the truth and have nobody believe you.

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