April Fool’s Day may offer some immunity for the office funny guy who pulls an annoying, but harmless, prank or two. But pranksters who pull more serious stunts can get in serious legal trouble — especially if they’re broadcasting their exploits online where anyone, including law enforcement, can see them.
Yes, it’s a trend: Pranksters pretending to be police officers who pull over innocent bystanders in order to capture their reactions on video for YouTube attention. For the most part, these “pull-over pranks” focus on people the pranksters know, people less likely to report the fake cops to the real police.
But would-be pranksters should be aware that not everyone will go along with the joke — and that getting caught can have real-life consequences. In Houston, pranksters whose YouTube pull-overs got nearly 300,000 views were charged with impersonating a police officer, a felony.
In London, members of YouTube channel Trollstation thought it would be funny to stage fake robberies and kidnappings at major public sites, including the National Portrait Gallery and Tate Britain, to post on their channel. Law enforcement authorities were not amused, and five members of the group were sent to jail for their participation in the pranks.
And in Seattle last year, a man broadcast a prank bomb threat from his phone on the University of Washington campus that resulted in the evacuation of several nearby buildings. The prank was part of a live stream in which his followers paid the YouTuber to broadcast their comments in public areas. The prankster was arrested and charged with “threat to bomb.”
Pretending to be the CEO
Apparently, impersonating the CEO of a major fast-food chain isn’t a great way to get a free cheeseburger and fries. A prankster who pulled this stunt at a couple of locations of In-N-Out Burger in the Los Angeles area was sued for $25,000 in damages by the fast-food chain. The company also requested a restraining order against the impersonator.
Causing vegetable destruction
Employees at a Giant supermarket in Manassas, Va., destroyed several pallets of fruits and vegetables after they saw what appeared to be a man pulling down his pants and rubbing his buttocks with store produce. The man claimed that he never actually pulled down his pants or rubbed the produce on his behind and only made it look like he did for a YouTube joke. He was arrested and charged with destruction of property and indecent exposure.
The joke’s on you
YouTube is a particularly popular medium for pranks, but some YouTube pranksters have found that when jokes go too far, the resulting lawsuits, criminal charges, and jail time aren’t very funny. If your funny video might cause a public panic, imperil someone’s safety, rile up the police, or get you sued, you may want to think twice about pulling your prank. At the least, you’d better have the number of a good criminal defense lawyer handy.