As communicators grapple with the epidemic of fake news and how it destroys
credibility, one organization has accepted blame for its active
The studio recently apologized for launching a campaign that used fake news
to promote its psychological thriller, “A Cure for Wellness.”
The mea culpa came after Buzzfeed published
an investigative report
At the core of the campaign is a network of five fake local news sites that
are inserting promotional references to the film into hoaxes. The sites
also host ads for the film and for a fake water brand that in at least one
case directs people to a website directly linked to the film.
The fake local news sites mostly publish hoaxes about topics unrelated to
the film, and in some cases their fake stories — such as one about Donald
implementing a temporary ban on vaccinations
— have been picked up by real websites and generated significant engagement
on Facebook thanks to people being fooled. Their biggest hit so far is
a fake story
about Lady Gaga planning to include a tribute to Muslims during the Super
bowl performance. It generated more than 50,000 shares, reactions, and
comments on Facebook.
Here’s what one false news article looked like:
20th Century Fox contracted with at least one fake-news creator (which it
would not name) and created five sites that mirrored real local news sites:Sacramento Dispatch, Indianapolis Gazette, NY Morning Post, Houston Leader and Salt Lake City Guardian.
The sites also run many of the same fake stories. For example, a false
“‘Trump Depression Disorder’ Classified As A Disease By The AmericanMedical Association”
appears on all of the sites. Notably, the story ends with a call to action
for the public “to tweet #cureforwellness to raise awareness of the growing
epidemic.” That’s the hashtag for the film.
The stories continued to spread through social media and were reported on
real news sites, in part because neither the false articles nor the false
news sites were clearly marked as sponsored content.
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The Washington Post
It required such digging because the websites didn’t contain any
disclaimers or other indication that they were not, in fact, legitimate
publications. Scattered throughout some stories were prompts for readers to
share their thoughts on social media using #acureforwellness.
For this to mean anything to readers, they would have had to know either
the title of the then-unreleased film or search the hashtag on Twitter. As
most news consumers offer roughly
of their attention to a story, according to Tony Haile, the founding chief
executive of Chartbeat, it’s unlikely that many took these steps to verify
The New York Times
It used other fake sites to promote the film as well, including one
designed to resemble HealthCare.Gov and another for a fake bottled water
company. Regency Enterprises and 20th Century Fox acknowledged their role
in the fake news operation in a statement on Tuesday.
“A Cure for Wellness is a movie about a ‘fake’ cure that makes people
sicker,” the statement said. “As part of this campaign, a ‘fake’ wellness
, was created and we partnered with a fake news creator to publish fake
“The use of hoax websites to build interest is unprecedented,”
The studio declined to answer reporters’ questions, which included whether
there were additional fake news sites beyond what Buzzfeed had
reported and whether 20th Century Fox had previously launched fake news
campaigns, The New York Times reported.
After Buzzfeed’s report was published, most of the fake news
sites’ domains redirected visitors to the film’s website.
On Thursday, the studio apologized for the campaign.
“In raising awareness for our films, we do our best to push the boundaries
of traditional marketing in order to creatively express our message to
consumers. In this case, we got it wrong,” a statement from the studio
“The digital campaign was inappropriate on every level, especially given
the trust we work to build every day with our consumers,” the statement
continued. “We have reviewed our internal approval process and made
appropriate changes to ensure that every part of a campaign is elevated to
and vetted by management in order to avoid this type of mistake in the
future. We sincerely apologize.”
Though the studio apologized, it might not be enough to undo the damage its
campaign caused to the communications industry.
The New York Times
“Fake news is not a cute or silly subject,” said Susan Credle, global chief
creative officer of the ad agency FCB. “When you start to tear down media
and question what’s real and what’s not real, our democracy is threatened.”