Rickrolling: From Internet Prank to Academic Curiosity

A recent study uncovers how the internet's favorite prank has infiltrated the hallowed halls of academia.

In a surprising twist of scholarly pursuits, researchers Benoit Baudry and Martin Monperrus have discovered that the ubiquitous internet prank known as “rickrolling” has found its way into academic literature.

This amusing phenomenon reveals a playful side of the academic world, suggesting that humor and creativity have a place even in the most serious of studies.

What is Rickrolling?

Rickrolling is a viral internet prank that involves tricking someone into clicking a hyperlink that leads to the music video for “Never Gonna Give You Up,” a 1987 hit song by Rick Astley.

The bait-and-switch meme has become a staple of internet culture since it first emerged in the mid-2000s.

Typically, the hyperlink is disguised as something relevant to the context of the conversation, making the eventual arrival at Astley’s video an unexpected and humorous surprise.

Academic Rickrolling Unveiled

In their paper titled “Exhaustive Survey of Rickrolling in Academic Literature,” Baudry and Monperrus explored how this internet prank has been subtly woven into scholarly works.

As of March 2022, their systematic survey identified 34 academic documents containing references to Rick Astley’s video on YouTube, with 23 of these instances being intentional rickrolls.

“We believe that rickrolling in academia proves inspiration and facetiousness,” the researchers write, “which is healthy for good science.”

Methodology: Hunting Down the Pranks

To conduct their research, Baudry and Monperrus identified the canonical URL of the rickroll video on YouTube, then used Google Scholar to search for academic documents containing this specific link.

Their search yielded 34 documents, which they manually reviewed to determine the intent behind the inclusion of the link.

The study was guided by several research questions: how many unique academic publications refer to Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” video? How many of these publications include the link with the intention of rickrolling the reader? What types of academic publications feature rickrolling? How is the rickroll integrated into these publications?

Results: Rickrolling Across Disciplines

Baudry and Monperrus’s investigation revealed that rickrolling is most prevalent in Master’s and PhD theses, particularly within the field of information technology.

However, the phenomenon is not confined to any single discipline or type of document.

The researchers identified several creative ways in which rickrolling was incorporated into academic literature.

Footnotes were the most discreet method, where a rickroll link is hidden in a footnote, often referencing something seemingly serious.

In computer science papers, rickroll links were embedded within sample code listings.

Some papers included the rickroll link in their list of references, disguised as a legitimate citation.

Additionally, authors used the rickroll link as an example URL in various contexts, making it appear as a typical part of the study.

The Implications: Humor in Academia

While rickrolling in academic papers might seem trivial, Baudry and Monperrus argue that it reflects a broader cultural shift.

The trend highlights the blending of internet culture with academic rigor, suggesting that scholars can maintain a sense of humor while conducting serious research.

Baudry and Monperrus’s work is just the beginning of understanding how internet culture influences academia.

They call for more research into academic pranks and humor, advocating for improvements in academic search engines to better handle such playful elements.

Study Details

Title: Exhaustive Survey of Rickrolling in Academic Literature
Authors: Benoit Baudry and Martin Monperrus
Publication Date: April 14, 2022
Conference: SIGBOVIK 2022