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‘A Cure For Wellness’ Film Studio Apologizes for Fake News Articles, Sites

20th century fox
20th century fox

20th Century Fox has apologized for an ill-conceived movie marketing campaign that featured fake news (as in, fictional stories that were entirely made up) in the form of partisan articles in nonexistent publications. These “articles” were then shared in the same place your uncle got that entirely false story claiming the Pope endorsed Donald Trump before the 2016 election: Facebook.

Under the marketing campaign for Fox, the studio invented at least five sources of “news” made to look like local news sites, including the (again, nonexistent) Sacramento Dispatch, Salt Lake City Guardian, Houston Leader, NY Morning Post and Indianapolis Gazette, the New York Times reports. One of several other sites it created was designed to resemble the HealthCare.Gov site.

The headlines for the fake news stories that A Cure For Wellness’ marketing campaign created and spread online (which were then shared by people who thought they were real) included:

  • “BOMBSHELL: Trump and Putin Spotted at Swiss Resort Prior to Election”
  • “LEAKED: Lady Gaga Halftime Performance to Feature Muslim Tribute”
  • “Trump Refuses to Provide California Federal Support in Midst of Natural Disaster, Cites Sanctuary Cities”
  • “California Legislature to Consider Tax Rebates for Women Who Get Abortions”

The fabricated stories’ headlines come at a time when, in the case of Putin and Trump, actual Trump administration officials are under scrutiny for their pre-election communications with Russia: As very-real news site CNN reported on February 15, “Trump aides were in constant touch with senior Russian officials during campaign.” As such — and given the relentless barrage of factual news that some people already find confusing and hard to keep up with — a fictional take of Trump and Putin taking a sauna meant to promote a thriller feels ill-timed and unnecessary. Particularly when they’re meant to look real, and not striking a tone of clear parody the way news satire sites like The Onion or Clickhole do.

Another fake story from the campaign:

20th Century Fox
A fake news article created and since removed by 20th Century Fox

20th Century Fox didn’t name the creators it worked in conjunction with to fabricate the sites and their content, but studio spokesman Dan Berger said on Thursday, (quotes via the Times), “the digital campaign was inappropriate on every level, especially given the trust we work to build every day with our consumers.”

“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,” the studio spokesman continued.

But when Buzzfeed News contacted Regency Enterprises, another producer of the film, for comment, the studio offered the explanation that “A Cure for Wellness is a movie about a ‘fake’ cure that makes people sicker. As part of this campaign, a ‘fake’ wellness site was created and we partnered with a fake news creator to publish fake news.”

The preponderance and prominence of entirely fake news, most often spread via Facebook even in their own bot-curated trending bar, was an unprecedented phenomenon during the 2016 election. Like many false news-peddling sites that spread misinformation to Americans during the race, a site named the Denver Guardian wasn’t just a fake newspaper, it was the invention of Macedonian teenagers to spread false information and make advertising money. For more, read Wired magazine’s February 15 feature “Inside the Macedonian Fake News Complex.”

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