Craig Silverman and Jane Lytvynenko from Buzzfeed recently discovered that the producers behind A Cure for Wellness launched fake news sites to promote the upcoming psychological thriller:
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 Trump 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 he Super bowl performance. It generated more than 50,000 shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook.
In principle, I’m not opposed to promotional micro-sites that have some interesting twist to them. And when it comes to imitating the actual look and feel of fake news sites like the Denver Guardian, the people behind this campaign actually did a good job.
The problem with these particular sites is that they also contain fake news that seems to incite the sort of hatred and reactions that “actual” fake news sites aim to get. So for instance, “Psychological Thriller Screening Leaves Salt Lake City Man in Catatonic State” is fine (although it still makes me slightly uncomfortable); Lady Gaga preparing a secret message for Muslims in her Super Bowl half-time show? It was a fake news story from one of these Cure for Wellness sites that went viral on Facebook.
In other words, the campaign would be funny and amusing, except for the fact that fake news can have actual, real-world consequences. For one Houston paper, it has already created problems.
It’s worth noting that after the uproar these sites caused on social media, all the film-related fake news sites are now gone, and redirect to the homepage of the movie’s website.