The April Fool that wouldn't die: How we accidentally pranked the Internet for years

In 2010, we wrote an April Fools' Day story about a chocolate-hating, time-traveling man named Eloi Cole. And then things got out of hand.

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
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Richard Trenholm
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This is not an April Fool. Let's get that straight right from the start.

No, this is the story of an April Fools' Day joke that was too successful, hanging around the Internet for years, inspiring a band and attracting a legion of conspiracy theorists.

On April 1, 2010, CNET's London office did what everyone else in the world does on that day. We posted a made-up news story, for a laugh. The headline: "Man arrested at Large Hadron Collider claims he's from the future".

The story was written by Nick Hide, our chief subeditor. Inspired by a real incident in which bread dropped by a bird damaged the LHC, Hide deftly spun a comic yarn about an enigmatic chap named Eloi Cole, who appeared at the world-famous science experiment before mysteriously vanishing.

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Seems legit, right? This image of "Doctor Who" star Matt Smith dropped into a picture of the Large Hadron Collider accompanied the story of Eloi Cole.

Richard Trenholm/CNET

The article immediately struck a chord. Readers enjoyed spotting the references to classic time travel stories dotted through the story, and Cole's dire warnings about the "communist chocolate hellhole" of the future went down well. Throughout the day, people read, commented on and shared the story on social networks. All in good fun, we thought. Job well done.

April Fools' Day came and went, but the story didn't. The following day, and for the rest of the week, the story continued to attract vast numbers of readers and commenters.

More than three weeks after it was posted, Cole's story was discussed by Kevin Rose and Alex Albrecht on their online show, Diggnation. In June, it was reported by the Huffington Post. The elves from popular British quiz show QI included it in their podcast. The story was still going strong when April Fools' Day rolled round again the following year. Eighteen months after publication, author Jon Ronson tweeted it.

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Despite loads of comments pointing out the "Back to the Future" and "Doctor Who" references and highlighting the date it was posted, some readers seemed to take the story rather more seriously. Some warned of the dangers of the LHC. Others hailed Cole as a hero. Conspiracy theorists loved it, discussing wormholes and government cover-ups. And KitKats.

When the story exploded again in February 2012, our boss made us put "April Fool" in the headline to drive home the point. But the more, shall we say, "open-minded" commenters responded that this was a classic media tactic to hide the truth -- the truth the ESTABLISHMENT doesn't want YOU to KNOW.

There was no stopping Cole. At some point, someone created YouTube videos purporting to be warnings from him. A house DJ adopted the name. In Brighton, a band named itself Eloi Cole and even got T-shirts. Sure, as memes go it wasn't that spectacular, but it was more than we'd ever expected from our daft little joke.

Nice one, Eloi Cole -- whenever you are.