Hollywood film company 20th Century Fox created a campaign of "fake news" to market a new film, and its efforts fooled enough people that the company finally had to issue an apology.
According to a report from the Washington Post, the production company's new horror/mystery film “A Cure for Wellness" was being promoted via the help of an unnamed "fake news" creator who set up websites that gave the appearance of actual news sites. These sites presented spurious news reports flanked by banner advertisements promoting the film. The problem is that it was nearly impossible to tell that the sites weren't legitimate.
The Post cited as an example the the Sacramento Dispatch, a fake news site created that promoted a story about President Donald Trump meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Switzerland prior to the U.S. election in November. The fabricated story featured a sensational headline to draw readers: "BOMBSHELL: Trump and Putin Spotted at Swiss Resort Prior to Election.”
The production company also created sister fake news sites for the Sacramento Dispatch — including the Houston Leader, the Salt Lake Guardian, the New York Morning Post and the Indianapolis Gazette — which did not indicate that they were part of a film marketing campaign. Most of the stories at these sites, according to the Washington Post, "made outlandish claims about President Trump."
One of the "stories" from the Sacramento Dispatch blared in its headline, "Trump Refuses to Provide California Federal Support in Midst of Natural Disaster, Cites Sanctuary Cities." The post went viral through social media, with some prominent users, including former Star Trek actor and social media celebrity George Takei, promoting it as a real story.
Here's a story on that: https://t.co/WypuyQywzx— George Takei (@George Takei)1486997537.0
Both Regency Enterprises, a production company involved with the film, and 20th Century Fox have made statements following the confusion on social media about the fake news sites. Regency said in a statement, “‘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.”
20th Century Fox released a lengthy statement saying, "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."