On Friday, a psychological thriller called A Cure For Wellness will open in theaters. Lots of movies open every weekend, so why should you care about this one from 20th Century Fox? You may or may not be interested in seeing the film, but you should be aware of an unusual tactic that the movie used to promote itself: propagating fake news.
By “fake news,” we mean made-up stories meant to shock and mislead readers into hitting “Share.” Completely false news items featured on the sites included stories about a “tribute to Muslims” during Lady Gaga’s Super Bowl performance that didn’t happen, and a story about vegans’ greater susceptibility to mental health problems.
Buzzfeed exposed the fake news sites and what they’re up to, explaining that a Hollywood studio was promoting itself by paying someone else to create “news” sites that deliberately spread misinformation to make money. Is that ethical? Is it appropriate if the movie is about fake medical treatments?
Once people spread the clickbait, the movie promotion is subtle: Among the other fake stories is a “trending” item with the headline Psychological Thriller Screening Leaves Texas Man in Catatonic State. The fake news sites also run ads for at least one fake brand tied to the film, and for the film itself.
One of the movie’s producers shared a statement about the logic behind the promotion. “A Cure for Wellness is a movie about a ‘fake’ cure that makes people sicker. As part of this campaign, a ‘fake’ wellness site healthandwellness.co was created and we partnered with a fake news creator to publish fake news,” the producer explained.
Maybe it’s appropriate that the fake news just made our political discourse sicker, instead of making us sicker. Plenty of people on Facebook are sharing these 100% fake stories with 100% genuine outrage, like an article about President Trump refusing aid for areas in California threatened with flooding due to the presence of sanctuary cities in that state.
You’ll notice that we aren’t linking to any of these fake news pieces: That’s because after Buzzfeed published its article revealing the shenanigans, someone re-directed the addresses for the “Salt Lake City Guardian,” “New York Morning Post,” and other imaginary news outlets to the site for A Cure For Wellness.