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Why do people keep falling for the same fake Friends movie trailer on YouTube?

Now, you can blame Facebook!

Monica, Chandler, Ross, and Rachel sitting on a couch on Friends

A fake trailer for a movie based on Friends has taken over Facebook feeds and YouTube’s trending section in the last week, causing a stir among hopeful fans and skeptics.

The trailer, so obviously fake, continues to circulate at a pretty staggering rate, leading some people to ask why there’s such a hubbub about a fan-made trailer for a movie that’s never going to happen. The bigger question, however, is why does this keep happening on an almost annual basis?

A well-done fake trailer for a feature-length Friends movie that could almost be believed as real first appeared on YouTube in 2013. It was created by a YouTube user named cheliara and published on Sept. 23, 2013. The video amassed just under 300,000 views in the last four years; not a small number by any means, but not overly successful either. Cheliara mentioned in the video’s description that it was a project she made for class. This may not seem important, but it’s actually pretty crucial.

Cheliara uses a few key clips that makes the trailer seem authentic. Lisa Kudrow and David Schwimmer talking to each other on Skype, for example, makes sense for a Friends movie that takes place after the spread of video teleconferencing software. That clip was taken from an episode of Web Therapy, a Showtime series that Kudrow starred in and Schwimmer appeared in over the course of four episodes.

The next clip stars Jennifer Aniston and Matthew Perry talking to each other about how long it’s been since they’ve seen each other. Again, it’s plausible. A Friends movie would take place nearly a decade after the finale in 2004, making their interaction pretty authentic. That clip, along with many others in the trailer, was taken from an episode of Ellen that acted as a mini-reunion for the Friends cast. That episode aired on May 21, 2013, and the segment was uploaded to YouTube.

Scenes from Cougar Town, Web Therapy, and various award shows were compiled together to make a halfway decent trailer. The trailer ended with a release window: January 2014. It didn’t create the same stir that the most recent fake Friends movie trailer managed, but Cheliara’s trailer did something more important: It inspired the trailer below.

In September 2014, another fake trailer for a feature-length Friends movie hit YouTube, but this one caught the attention of national and international media organizations. Movie Pilot, Cosmopolitan and The National all wrote about the trailer, reminding readers that Warner Bros. Television hadn’t actually ordered a script and a Friends reunion was still off the table.

Created by VJ4rawr2, the newest fake Friends movie trailer on YouTube used most of Cheliara’s tricks. The trailer opened up with scenes from Cougar Town and Web Therapy — even reusing the same clip from the mini-reunion on Ellen to hammer home the concept of the movie.

That trailer was published on YouTube on Sept. 7, 2014, almost one year to the date of Cheliara’s original trailer being posted on the site. There were a few differences, most notably the inclusion of Matt LeBlanc’s role as himself in Episodes. The specific clip features an officer referring to LeBlanc as Joey, adding into the fan-made trailer’s illusion that this could very well be real.

The trailer for Friends: The Movie added in its own release window: 2018. That trailer has been watched more than 38 million times as of this writing, and people are still commenting on it today.

More fan-made trailers have been made throughout the years, with some receiving attention from publications and some going unnoticed. By 2017, Friends movie trailers on YouTube became its own subgenre. There’s no reason that longtime fans of the series should have paid any attention to them — and they didn’t. As fan-made trailers became better produced, they also became a dime a dozen. Typing in the word “fan made trailer” results in close to 12 million videos ranging from movies to television series, books and anime. Even sporting events like the Super Bowl and NBA Championships have fan-made trailers.

The newest feature-length Friends parody trailer, created by Smasher, is a week old, but it’s already garnered 4.9 million views at the time of this writing. Snopes, Huffington Post, Buzzfeed and TV Guide are all writing about it — and it’s effectively the same trailer that we’ve seen for close to five years. It’s the same clips rearranged. So what changed this time around?

Blame Facebook

This time people think it’s real because of Facebook. Ripping trailers from YouTube and uploading them to Twitter and Facebook isn’t new. It’s frowned upon, and sometimes action is taken, but people and websites do it all the time. It’s so common that the first sentence in Smasher’s description for the video is “Please refrain from reuploading/posting our video anywhere else and or claiming it as your own, appropriate action will be taken if stolen.”

Unfortunately for Smasher, the Friends trailer was taken and uploaded to a Facebook page called “William Ferrell.” The video has since been taken down. The page, which does not actually belong to comedian Will Ferrell, generates millions of views. More importantly, hundreds of thousands of people are engaging with the post. They’re liking it, commenting on it and sharing it with friends on their own Facebook accounts.

The more people engage with a post on Facebook, the more the company’s algorithm will assume that it’s real. When stories about the trailer get written up, they show up in Facebook’s newsfeed. Unlike the original YouTube video, which points out in the description that it was created by a fan, the Facebook version provides no such caveat. The result is millions of people sharing a trailer they think is real and spreading that news around. It’s only when people find Smasher’s video on YouTube that everything starts to make sense.

Friends trailer youtube comment
YouTube caption on Smasher’s Friends trailer.

The lesson in anything fake on the internet — fake news, fake trailers — is to beware the algorithm. If you watch enough fan-made trailers, that’s what YouTube is going to recommend. My general lesson is that if it seems to good to be true, it probably is. Alternatively, listen to the show’s co-creator, Marta Kauffman, who reiterated to Vanity Fair in 2016 a belief she’s held since the show went off the air in 2004.

They nag me all the time about it, and my answer is that Friends was a show about that time in your life when your friends are your family, and in a weird way, this isn’t that different. Once you start having family of your own it changes, and the show was over. A show has a lifespan, I believe. It has a lifespan like anything else, and there’s no reason to continue doing it just because people miss the characters. Watch the old ones; there is no way we could win that. And there’s no way it would be satisfying and it’ll never happen. We’ll never do it.

If you do want to watch Friends — a real version — the entire series is streaming on Netflix.

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