Entertainment studio Regency Enterprises hired a fake news creator to generate viral buzz for its new film A Cure for Wellness. According to BuzzFeed, the studio launched five local fake news sites to host banner ads for the film, while also adding references to the movie into hoaxes about President Trump and vaccinations. The stunt, in effect, became a misinformation campaign that potentially deceived audiences that consumed the hoaxes online.
A Cure for Wellness, Gore Verbinski’s new horror film about a young Wall Street executive forced to maintain his sanity at a spooky Swiss wellness spa, is already enjoying a healthy publicity push ahead of its February 17th debut, including its own Super Bowl commercial. But the use of hoax websites to build interest is unprecedented. In a statement sent to BuzzFeed, a representative for Regency stated that the campaign was all a part of the promotional strategy:
“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 site healthandwellness.co was created and we partnered with a fake news creator to publish fake news.”
The creator behind the sites is currently unknown. However, the five websites in question, Houston Leader, Indianapolis Gazette, NY Morning Post, Sacramento Dispatch, and Salt Lake City Guardian, all trade in hyper-partisan hoaxes that can churn tens of thousands of shares on Facebook. One now-deleted example was a story about Lady Gaga planning a tribute to Muslims during her Super Bowl halftime performance. That story was picked up by other sites like Red State Watcher, where readers commented negatively on the news. According to Lead Stories, an online trend tracking website, the Sacramento Dispatch ran another story with the headline "BOMBSHELL: Trump and Putin Spotted at Swiss Resort Prior to Election." That story had clear links to the film, mentioning the main character and even the spa where it takes place. Since the original BuzzFeed story ran, all five sites now redirect to the film’s official website.
It should be obvious that creating fake news websites to promote a film is irresponsible, especially given the present political climate. Fake news had a real and detrimental effect on online discourse before the election, forcing companies like Apple and Facebook to respond. We’ve reached out to Regency Enterprises and 20th Century Fox for comment.