On April 1, 2017, The Victorian Press published an article on the 30% increase in water prices, and its effects on VJC. The article was published at the stroke of midnight on April Fools’ Day, using an auto-poster. We would like to take this opportunity to apologise for any inconvenience caused to students taking that article seriously. Unlike that article, however, which was meant as a joke, this article will deal with a rather serious matter.
Yesterday’s article was a success, in that many people were fooled. However, it was too much of a success. Many people were taken in, and persisted in the belief that the article was genuine, when they should not have.
In the article, a number of false claims were made. We announced policies such as switching off the PT fountain 30% of the time, which did not exist. We also wrote about an increase in food prices to offset the higher cost of water, and described watermelons as logically being made of water. Two fake Victorians, from the nonexistent class of 17S30, were interviewed.
Disturbingly, many (real) Victorians fell for this piece of fake news. The Victorian Press received a few queries from concerned students asking if the news was real, but at the same time we observed many Victorians sharing and reacting to the news as if it were true. Many voiced their concern or disappointment at the increase in prices, and many simply passed on the news by sharing the link to the article to friends. This was done without any attempt to ask if it were true.
At Victoria Junior College, we should aim to be discerning, informed students and not fall for fake news or false information. In an age which has been described as a “post-truth world”, the spread of misinformation has become more and more common. This misinformation can range from harmless, such as April Fools’ Day pranks like these, to malicious, such as manipulative news that presents false perspectives, with the intent to shape people’s opinions in a certain way. A lack of information literacy will only spell doom for us in the long run as we lose our ability to tell fact from fiction and make informed judgements on issues where a lot may be at stake.
As such, it is important for us Victorians to exercise caution, judgement and discretion when presented with news that is too unbelievable to be true. In fact, the article we published contained indications that should have given it away as a prank.
Both the interviewees, as well as the writer, were from 17S30 — a class which does not exist in VJ; their names were also translations of phrases such as “complain about price” and “April Fools’ Day” in various languages. No teachers were interviewed or consulted within the article.
The maths presented does not check out — if water was more expensive by 30%, then it would cost 130% of the original price. Reducing use of water by 30%, the new fee is 70% of 130% which is 91%; a reduction by 23% is sufficient to offset a 30% tax increase.
More obviously, a tax of 30% on the current price of water coolers is effectively nothing — usage of water coolers is free. 30% of zero is zero.
At the end of the article, unbelievable claims were made, such as the one saying that “Fired Up” on our shirts will be replaced by “Fried Up”.
In addition, the tone of the article was generally more unprofessional than the typical standard of the Victorian Press, with informal language, weasel words and sweeping statements (such as “VJC uses water”). This should have caught the attention of our regular readers.
However, the biggest giveaway was that this news was not accompanied by any official information from the school management itself. If there were such a major policy announcement in the school, an email would be sent out detailing the specifics of the policies. It would also most likely be announced during the combined assembly on Tuesdays or Fridays.
Thus, there were many indicators that the article contained false, unsubstantiated information. We expected Victorians to exercise their judgement and consider the possibility that the article was a hoax; a check of the calendar should have led to a realisation that it was an April Fools’ Day prank. A few students did approach us to verify the news, suspecting that it was a joke, while some reassured their friends it was likely an April Fools’ Day prank. Their actions were laudable. However, a majority of readers fell for the joke, which is regrettable.
All this is not to say that The Victorian Press is an unreliable news source. On the contrary, we strive to deliver to Victorians accurate, up-to-date and relevant information about the school. But fake news is a real problem in society, and it is becoming more serious with each day that goes by. Yesterday’s article may have been intended as a harmless bit of fun, but the consequences would be dire and far-reaching if people all took pranks like it seriously.
Hence, we would like Victorians to take away from this matter the simple lesson that not all news should be blindly trusted. We are grateful for this opportunity to send this important message to Victorians. Please do not interpret it as us scolding or chiding you for not knowing better; take it as a reminder to constantly verify what you read.
This joke about water prices may have been entertaining to some, but when Victorians shared or reacted to the piece as if it were genuine, especially against a backdrop of increasing misinformation and half-truths, we believe that is no laughing matter.
Chief Editor Ryan Ch’ng
2 April 2017