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What is a Rickroll?

A prankster will tease the target of a Rickroll.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 06 October 2014
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A Rickroll is a link which supposedly leads to something interesting and relevant to the conversation at hand, but actually lands the unwary user on a video of Rick Astley singing his 1980s hit “Never Gonna Give You Up.” Someone who clicks on such a link is said to have been “Rickrolled,” and there are numerous derivatives of the Rickroll, all of which feature ludicrous songs. This Internet meme exploded in 2007, and became large enough to be featured in the mainstream media on several occasions.

There is some debate as to the origins of the Rickroll. Obviously, Internet users have been pranking each other with bogus links since long before the Rickroll came into prominence, and several Internet communities claim to have refined the Rickroll. The most likely culprit behind the mainstream Rickroll is 4chan, an image sharing community which originally created the duckroll, a link which sent users to an animated image of a rolling wooden duck, or a photoshopped picture of a duck with wheels.

In a well executed Rickroll, a user will claim to have found an awesome site, image, or video, like a leaked trailer for an upcoming feature film, and he or she will provide the link. When users click on the link, instead of seeing the aforementioned awesome site, they encounter Rick Astley's famous video; when they return to complain, the prankster will tease them for having been Rickrolled.

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In a more insidious version of the Rickroll, the link leads to a site with embedded scripts which wreak havoc on the user's computer. For example, the browser may resize and start hopping around the screen to the beat, or a series of error messages with the lyrics of the songs will pop up. Usually this is more irritating than harmful, although users are generally forced to quit their browsers to deal with the problem.

Rick Astley himself has said that he finds the Rickroll amusing, and he is perhaps also pleased to see that his song still gets airtime, courtesy of the Rickroll. The scope of a Rickroll knows no bounds; in addition to being used on bulletin boards all over the Internet and in instant messaging, the Rickroll was also used in an April Fools' Day prank by the popular video-sharing service YouTube, which turned all of its hyperlinks into links to a video of “Never Gonna Give You Up.”

Although a Rickroll is generally meant in harmless good fun, Internet users should watch out for bogus links. Creative hackers have been known to hijack sites with malicious code which could damage a computer. If a link looks unfamiliar to you, you may want to run it through a search engine like Google, which will often be able to tell you if it is safe to click or not.

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