On April 1, Justin Bieber posted a picture of a sonogram on his Instagram page. Minutes later, the popstar shared a second photo of his wife, Hailey Bieber, having her stomach examined by a man and a woman assumed to be health care professionals. “If you thought it was April fools,” read the caption, which sent the internet into overdrive. The Biebers were expecting a baby! Or were they? Less than an hour went by and another sonogram appeared on his page. The image had been doctored to show a puppy instead of a baby. “Wait,” he said. “Oh my god, is that an April fools?”
The fallout that ensued in the comment section presented a divided crowd. Some, including David Beckham – “Hahahaha @justinbieber” – and Kris Jenner – “Ugh I actually got chills… I almost cried then I realised what day it is” – found the hoax hilarious. Others amongst his 107 million followers found the ruse “disrespectful”, “disgusting”, “insensitive” and a “classless act”. “Do you understand how many families have to deal with infertility and loss of pregnancy?,” one user asked in summary of why his joke had missed the mark. “Shame on you.”
Let’s look at both sides of the divide. Bieber’s prank followed his heartfelt message to fans declaring that he is taking a break from music to focus on some “deep rooted issues”, in order to “sustain [his] marriage and be the father [he] want[s] to be.” Weeks prior to that post he had alerted his followers that he had “been struggling a lot” and “feeling super disconnected and weird”. He hoped that his openness would “resonate” with the online community that has followed his every move during his decade growing up in the spotlight. Almost five million people liked the post and hundreds shared messages of support. The April fool thus seemed like it had been sent into the social-media ether by someone who hadn’t considered the mixed messages, or the impact it could have on individuals who had been personally impacted by pregnancy complications.
So, why did no one stop him from pressing the “send” button? Bieber’s manager Scooter Braun commented underneath his client’s grand reveal: “Got em!!!!” And Bieber’s mother, Pattie Mallette, wrote: “Ha ha. Happy April fools. I am so looking forward to the day y’all bringing me babies that are ‘grand’! You’re going to make beautiful children and be great parents when the time comes.” The performer’s closest support network was apparently in on the act, or saw no reason to weigh in on the debate sparked by the 25-year-old.
Let’s reiterate Bieber’s age: 25. Mrs Bieber is 22. They are young adults still learning who they are as people and, naturally, making mistakes in the process. The difference between them and others in their early twenties? The whole world is watching when they slip up.
Although the pair has spoken about their desire to have a family before, Mrs Bieber recently told Vogue, “In this day and age, I’m scared to have kids to be honest. I see the way the culture and the youth are now, and I think, ‘In 10 years, what is it going to be like?’ It’s really important to help young people understand where their identity comes from.”
In the age of misinformation, we might not need gags adding fuel to the online forum, but we do need greater guidance.