The rapid spread of a fake trailer for a non-existent 'Friends' movie shows that Facebook still has a fake news problem

Facebook/William FerrellSorry, the ‘Friends’ movie isn’t happening.
  • Sorry, there isn’t a “Friends” movie coming out this year.
  • A fan-made trailer for the non-existent film has gone viral on Facebook – and it’s tricky to tell that it isn’t real.
  • Facebook is the perfect platform for misleading posts to go viral as it doesn’t check posts like this.

Will Ferrell is lying to you. Or at least, a fake Facebook page that used his name is. There isn’t a “Friends” movie coming out in April.

But that hasn’t stopped a fan-made trailer for the non-existent film going viral on Facebook. The video posted by the “William Ferrell” page on Facebook has gotten 48 million views, 669,000 shares, 546,000 comments, and 665,000 likes.

The description of the video doesn’t mention anything about it being a fan-made trailer cobbled together using footage of the cast of “Friends” appearing in other shows. Instead, the description simply reads “Friends the movie ???? (Coming April 2018).”

Facebook FriendsFacebookThe deleted Facebook video.

The page has since changed its name to “Funny Inc.” and dropped the “William Ferrell” name – but it still uses his photo.

This post shows a major flaw with Facebook: Fake news can spread rapidly through the power of users interacting with it. The comments on the video illustrate this pretty clearly – they are almost all people excitedly tagging their friends and encouraging them to watch the video, apparently unaware that it’s fake.

Facebook recently took a stand against fake news (and news in general) when it vowed to cut down on the amount of posts from pages in its news feed. CEO Mark Zuckerberg also said that he would leave it to Facebook users to sort out which pages are reliable, and which ones publish fake news.

That’s one way to tackle fake news – but it doesn’t affect posts like the fake “Friends” trailer. The power of friends tagging each other made the video go viral, and there’s no sign on the video that it isn’t real.

So, what if someone on Facebook wants to find out more? They might search for “Friends” in the site’s search bar. If they did, they would see three misleading headlines which suggest that the trailer is real:

Facebook fake Friends trailerFacebook

What Facebook probably should have done is feature a news story which doesn’t force people to click through to find out the truth. But publishers have learned to tease crucial details of a story inside the article itself, essentially “clickbaiting” the user into giving them traffic.

Let’s give Facebook the benefit of the doubt, though. “Friends” is a pretty vague search term. What about if your curious relative, keen to learn more about the “Friends” movie, searched for “Friends trailer 2018”?

Friends trailer searchFacebook

Oh. No wonder people fell for it.

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