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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Sunday, May 19, 2024

The April Fools’ email was a call to action — and it was funny

Tufts framed the fake Kumar-death email as “sick and awful.” Was it really that bad?

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Gifford House, the president's residence, is pictured on April 7.

On April 1, Tufts students and staff woke up to an email from a seemingly official Tufts announcements address with the subject, “Very Sad News.” The email announced the tragic, unexpected death of University President Sunil Kumar. After revealing the news, the email offered a standard list of support resources, including Ears for Peers, Counseling and Mental Health Services and the Student Support team. At the very bottom of the list, there was a message to Tufts Technology Services that called out their failure to prevent email scraping, explained how said failure has led to countless spam and phishing emails and suggested that TTS implement CAPTCHA services in the Tufts directory to prevent scraping and further spam. The email simply ended with “April Fools.”

TTS responded in roughly 15 minutes, affirming Kumar’s vitality and calling the email an “ill-advised attempt at an April Fools joke. After an additional 18 minutes, TTS sent a second follow-up email calling the fake announcement “a sick and awful April Fool’s joke.” 

Was the email really that bad though? Pulling pranks on April Fools’ Day has been a tradition for quite some time and fake emails are nothing new. Just over two weeks ago, a scam email was sent to the Tufts Department of Computer Science mailing list which insinuated that the recipient had been hacked and must pay a large sum of Bitcoin to prevent a sensitive leak. In a time where we’re constantly bombarded with misinformation, and at a school where spam emails are commonplace, many people who received the April Fools’ email probably did not take it at face value.

Aside from the fact that the email concludes with “April Fools” and that the last section alludes to exactly how and why it was sent, the email is presented as a joke. The subject, “Very Sad News,” pokes fun at the Tufts administration’s mildly apathetic “Sad News” emails, which have announced employee deaths in a distastefully impersonal manner.

Getting Tufts to address problems with its technology is a notoriously difficult task. Student Information System is a confusing nightmare, and its lack of user-friendly design only adds more stress to class registration. In my experience, Tufts Secure Wi-Fi often provides spotty service, if it works at all. The Duo Security app is a needlessly complicated way to implement two-factor authentication and has led to multiple professors pausing lectures so they can take a phone call to log into Canvas.

The April Fools’ email poked fun at Tufts’ technology failures. In the last paragraph, it states, “Despite being aware of the vulnerability for months, TTS failed to take actionable steps to prevent scraping. As a result, Tufts students and faculty receive spam and phishing emails on a daily basis. Maybe, the death of the university president will cause TTS to wake up.” It’s an intentionally tongue-in-cheek statement, but the sentiment is serious. What will it take for Tufts to fix their technology problems?

This email was a smart way to expose the lack of security in place on the Tufts directory. The email does not come off as malicious, but it serves as a warning to Tufts. The April Fools’ email made its invalidity clear, but it didn’t have to. Scam emails can be incredibly convincing, so allowing easy access to the entire Tufts mailing list is dangerous.

Acts of protest need to be disruptive in some way, otherwise, they can be easily ignored. The email’s relatively shocking topic should compel TTS to acknowledge its faults, and will hopefully motivate them to implement necessary change and technological improvement.

Aside from being an effective act of protest, the email was also funny. I think it’s one of the first times an April Fools’ joke has actually made me laugh. It might be a bit morbid, sure, but announcing the death of Kumar over a short email with the subject “Very Sad News” is a pretty humorous way to highlight Tufts’ shortcomings in announcing staff deaths. If the email was not obviously presented as an April Fools’ prank, there would be clear grounds for criticizing it, as the email could be interpreted as a threat. However, given that the email made it clear that it was a joke, I don’t think it was harmful. Overall, the email was nothing more than a lighthearted call to action, and it should serve as a model for how to effectively press for change.