On March 5 2020, a highly-upvoted r/funny and r/all post displayed the following headline: “Corona beer offers $10 million to change the name Coronavirus to “literally anything else” and an extra $15 million to change it to BudLightvirus”:
At the time the thread was posted, novel coronavirus strain COVID-19 was major news in several countries, alongside general rumors (coalescing around a flawed poll) COVID-19’s “coronavirus” classification actively harmed sales of Corona beer.
As displayed, the headline played to both sets of rumors — the general ones about COVID-19, and the specific ones about beer sales. A top comment on the thread was gilded and upvoted more than 16,000 times, and it indicated at least some of the commenters were reading an appended link as straightforward news:
“I mean how many people have died from consuming too much Corona?” he added. “Probably no one. Bud Lite however? Probably millions.”
Well, you gotta hand it to the CEO for going balls to the walls with that PR move
A link shared by the post directed users to the Burrard Street Journal (that would be, yes, the BS Journal), and an article which appeared to report:
Constellation Brands, the company behind Corona beer, have offered up to $15 million to help change the Coronavirus’ name to the BudLightvirus.
Executives at Constellation are thought to be ‘incredibly concerned’ with the rising publicity of the deadly virus, that has so far killed over 100 people and have pledged an initial $10 million to change the Coronavirus name to “literally anything else” with a further $5 million if the name change is BudLightvirus.
“Well for one BudLightvirus really rolls off the tongue doesn’t it?” Constellation CEO Bill Newlands told CNN. “And when you think of a disgusting virus that forces you to cover your nose or mouth if you come into contact with it, you think of Bud Lite so we feel the new name is more apt.”
Although the item was undated, archiving it revealed it was at least a month old when it was shared to Reddit. The Burrard Street Journal (again, abbreviated as “BS Journal”) was the page behind years-old TruthOrFiction.com fact checks; its “About” page explains:
The Burrard Street Journal is an occasionally funny Canadian satire, parody and comedy news website based in Vancouver, BC. All articles, videos and images are fictitious and intended to be humorous. For more information please see our disclaimer or check out our handy guide to fake/satire news.
While many r/funny users missed that the “Corona beer offers $10 million to change the name Coronavirus to ‘literally anything else’ and an extra $15 million to change it to BudLightvirus” headline came from a parody news site, it did. As the site’s disclaimer noted, all content was “fictitious and intended to be humorous.” We laughed.