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April Fool's Day Hoax--Or Not?

[Reading Time - 1 minute 37 seconds]


It's no surprise that attackers often use hoaxes as a first step in an attack. A hoax is a warning that is false. For example, an email message claiming to come from the IT department says that there is a “deadly virus” circulating through the Internet and that you should erase specific files on your computer or change security configurations while forwarding the message to all your friends. However, changing security configurations can allow an attacker to compromise your computer while erasing specific files may make your computer unstable. Your computer becomes so unstable that you then call the telephone number in the hoax email message for help from the IT Department--but the phone number actually calls the attacker who gives you more instructions to compromise your computer.


Many security hoaxes like these will bounce around the Internet on April Fool's Day. Besides just rejecting anything that looks the slightest bit suspicious, is there a way to identify a hoax from a legitimate message?


Academic researchers in Natural Language Processing from Lancaster University have conducted research to try to tease out April Fool's Day hoaxes (and even fake news stories on April 1 as well). They analyzed over 500 April Fools articles from more than 370 websites written since 2005. What they discovered was interesting.


  • April Fool's Day hoaxes and fake news articles usually have longer sentences but use less complex language and are easier to read than the real stuff.
  • Important details for news stories, such as names, places, dates and times, are used less frequently.
  • First person pronouns ("we") also appear regularly, which is opposite traditional deception detection that says hoaxers use fewer first person pronouns.


Here is a list of what the researchers found in April Fool's Day hoax stories compared to genuine news:

  • Are easier to read
  • Are generally shorter in length
  • Are less interested in past events
  • Contain fewer proper nouns
  • Contain more references to the present
  • Refer to vague events in the future
  • Use longer sentences
  • Use more first-person pronouns
  • Use more unique words

So, you can spend today analyzing those April Fool's Day hoaxes that flood your email inbox against the above list--or just delete anything asks you to take some type of immediate action and tell your friends to do the same.


This research paper will be presented later this month, but you can read a summary on ScienceDaily.