‘Resident Evil,’ a Vietnamese skincare specialist, and fake news: An investigation
If skincare is your specialty, associating your brand with desiccated human flesh is probably unwise.
It’s a good thing all this fuss over Medcare Skin Centre is probably fake news. Isn’t it? I’ll tell you, friends: I’ve spent the better part of the day investigating — with assists from Mashable Gaming Editor Tina Amini and Mic Gaming Editor Amanda Farough — and I’m still not clear.
Here’s the face of what people are reporting: Medcare Skin Centre, a Ho Chi Minh City-based clinic, made the tragic error of adopting the logo of Resident Evil‘s Umrella Corporation as its own. For the uninitiated, Umbrella Corp. is the villainous body responsible for the series’ zombie epidemic.
When I first saw the post this morning on Geek Culture — h/t to Kotaku for spotting — I was gleeful at the idea of covering such a weird story. Then that glee turned to doubt: the whole thing seemed just a little too ridiculous. In this #fakenews era especially, it’s important for journalists to take care in what we report.
So I investigated. I talked to tech-minded colleagues. I talked to Capcom. I explored the internet as Vietnam-dwellers see it. I called a foreign country. I went from doubtful to convinced to doubtful again. If you’re looking for the TL;DR, here it is: I think this might be real, but I can’t be 100 percent certain.
You’re not here for the quick-and-dirty explanation, though. So, please, join me on a journey of intrigue as I take you through the events that unfolded as I tried to figure out what the hell is going on here.
The original report
I admit, I wasn’t super familiar with Geek Culture before today. That’s not a knock on the site, and it’s certainly not an indication that this whole situation is a pile of BS. But that fact certainly fueled some of my doubts.
The website’s report is filled with images that appear to be pulled from a more official source. The Umbrella logo is unmistakable in Medcare’s branding, but that’s something a savvy content creator could easily PhotoShop.
This Instagram share appears to be an original shot, snapped by Geek Culture or one of its readers:
The rest of the images — as far as I can tell — come from Medcare’s website or some other, as-yet-unknown source.
Facebook and Google Maps
The Geek Culture story also links out to Medcare Skin Centre’s Facebook page, which appears to be very new.
There are only two posts there and both are dated June 5, 2017. They’re functionally identical in terms of content: an English-language statement from Medcare addressing the Umbrella logo similarity in an apparent attempt to quell client concerns, and a Vietnamese-language version of the same.
The Facebook page links out to an official website: www.medcare.com.vn. Go there and you’ll just find an Under Construction image. Also on Facebook is an address and a map that purportedly shows the location of Medcare’s facility.
Here they are:
You get a slightly different location when you plug the same address into Google maps. It’s nearby, but definitely around the corner from the location pictured on the Facebook map.
Unfortunately, Google Maps doesn’t have an extensive Street View mapping of that area — you know, the kind that lets you wander around like you’re in an IRL first-person video game. But if you look up 95/36 Bắc Hải on Google, you land inside some kind of beauty accessories store.
The official website
There’s one more piece to this puzzle. Medcare has a website. You can find it at www.medcare.com.vn. There’s just one problem: it’s under construction.
The actual Medcare Skin Centre website exists, it’s just a little bit buried. You can find the homepage at medcare.com.vn/thammyda/index.html.
The actual homepage is part of the same domain, but it’s hidden away in this sub-folder. Why would that happen? I turned to my good pal — and Mic Gaming Editor — Amanda Farough, who knows an awful lot about coding, design, and all sorts of internet things.
In Amanda’s eyes, it looked like “someone didn’t move the files out of a subdirectory.” It could be a “test” version of the live website, she said.
It’s also possible that the real website is currently parked in this temporary location since, as we know from Facebook, the clinic is aware of the logo issue.
There’s also a custom Google map on the website showing the same physical location that we see on Facebook — which, as you might remember, differs from the actual Google Maps location for that address. Amanda had some thoughts about the map as well.
“[This] isn’t unusual, because it’s much easier to embed a custom map sometimes. But because it’s custom, there’s no way to pull up directions to the Center as a result.”
Amanda also checked on the medcare.com.vn domain owner, which I’d been struggling with. She traced it back to nina.vn, a Vietnamese web services company. In other words: the owner of the medcare.com.vn domain is, for all intents and purposes, anonymous.
Amanda helped me answer a bunch of questions, but those answers only led to more questions. So I dove even further down this weird zombie rabbit hole I’d dug myself into.
Emailing with Capcom
While all of these things were happening I had an email chain open with a friend of mine who works on the PR team at Capcom. I asked her: have you seen this Geek Culture posting? Is it some weird viral marketing situation?
Like most publishers, Capcom splits its teams up across different regions. So my U.S.-based friend had to turn to her counterparts in Asia and — due to the time difference — Europe.
The answer? Inconclusive. It’s not like PR is going to give it to me straight if this is some super-secret ad campaign. But I got the sense that my Capcom friend was genuinely unaware, and so was her co-worker in Europe.
Did you know you can Google stuff in another country by tweaking your URL? If you go to google.com.vn, you’re suddenly on Vietnam Google. That’s a handy thing for journalists working in the internet era to keep in mind.
At this point, I was feeling pretty convinced we were dealing with a fake news situation. I couldn’t figure out who perpetrated it, but too many pieces weren’t adding up.
Then I looked at Vietnam Google.
I… think Medcare Skin Centre might be real? First I found this local report, which says the clinic opened in April 2017. That would explain the weird issues with the website and the Facebook portal. It would also explain why Google Maps didn’t have Medcare registered as a business at that address.
That said, the report in question is still about the Umbrella Corp. tie. I’ve been covering news on the internet for more than a decade now, and hoaxes like this can get pretty elaborate. But still, it was something.
Then, digging deeper, I came across this. A May 22, 2017 post — which pre-dates any of the Medcare/Umbrella-related coverage I could find — hyping the recently opened clinic’s freebie treatment offer. By far the most conclusive piece of evidence I’d found suggesting this was a real business.
At this point, there was only one real investigative path left to me: call the freaking place. It was 1:00 a.m. local time in Vietnam when I was looking into this, so I figured — worst-case scenario — I’d get a recorded message.
I bought some Skype credit and dialed the number. The phone rang. And rang again. After five rings, it connected. A very tired-sounding male voice said: “Hello?”
I froze. Had someone really answered the phone at this clinic after midnight? The voice spoke again: “Hello?” Mortified, I mumbled something about having the wrong number and the line went dead.
Look, freezing up like that definitely wasn’t my proudest moment as a journalist. But how would you feel if you knew full well you’d probably just yanked someone out of a peaceful sleep?
An inconclusive conclusion
The phone call foul-up didn’t bear much fruit, but it did raise a new question, along with some fresh doubts: why would anyone be in this closed-down clinic at 1:00 a.m.? More importantly, why would they answer the phone at that hour?
Alas, I cannot answer that. It’s still the wee morning hours in Vietnam at the time of this writing, and there’s no way I’m going to get that poor fellow out of bed again just so I can chase this flight of journalistic fancy even further.
All of which is to say: this might be a hoax or it might be real. I originally leaned heavily toward hoax, but the more digging I’ve done into local Vietnam postings, the more I’ve come to believe the facts are what they appear to be: a dermatology specialist in Ho Chi Minh City made the questionable decision to use a logo associated with a popular zombie video game series.
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