February 20, 2017

Closing the IMDb Boards: A Needed Wake-Up Call for the Internet

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Written by: William Coffey
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(AOTN) If one were to recently visit the message board for their favorite movie or TV show on IMDb, like many people in the last few weeks have, they most likely have seen this posted at the top of every board since the beginning of February:

“IMDb is the world’s most popular and authoritative source for movie, TV and celebrity content. As part of our ongoing effort to continually evaluate and enhance the customer experience on IMDb, we have decided to disable IMDb’s message boards on February 20, 2017. This includes the Private Message system. After in-depth discussion and examination, we have concluded that IMDb’s message boards are no longer providing a positive, useful experience for the vast majority of our more than 250 million monthly users worldwide. The decision to retire a long- standing feature was made only after careful consideration and was based on data and traffic.”

That’s right. Coming this President’s Day to a monitor near you, all of IMDb’s message boards are being permanently deactivated,joining the ranks of numerous social media sites that once bustled with traffic and life and slowly disappeared into the electronic abyss, such as MySpace, Friendster and Yahoo! Buzz.

* Upon the completion of this, as it turns out, February 20th for the people over at IMDb began in the UK, so in America, the boards actually went cold around 4pm Pacific Time, to the disappointment and anger of many. Matt Damon put it best in “The Martian” when his first transmission to NASA informed them of his survival: “Surprise!”.

Frankly, it’s been a long time coming.

For the last few years, I’ve heard from many people, both close friends and online acquaintances who were members at one point, about how far in quality the site had fallen thanks to online trolls that would turn numerous boards into hotbeds of petty insults to demean either the film, anyone involved with it or anyone who enjoyed it. A website that had been a big part of my online life since I was a teenager, where I had encountered and participated in a number of rewarding conversations that gave me new appreciations for a number of the films that have held a special place in my heart, was this massive trainwreck? It didn’t feel right to me.

It was when I recently started paying closer attention to the patterns and behaviors of a number of posters that I realized how wrong I was. It was far, far worse than they were describing it and that isn’t meant to be hyperbolic.

“We came, we saw, we kicked its ass!” – Peter Venkman, ‘Ghostbusters’.

Last year, inspired by the behaviors of those forums and L.A. Times’ contributor Todd Martens own article on “The Age of Entitlement”, I set out to write about “the ugly side of fandom in the social media age.” While that article was ultimately uncompleted, there was a completed section, itself a striking example to understand this “surprising” move on IMDb’s part, that was dedicated exclusively to the message board for Paul Feig’s “Ghostbuster” remake, still controversial among the most “passionate” of commenters, and its place on fandom’s whipping post.


Originally, I intended to employ a number of examples from the boards for anything in the DC cinematic universe, as those remain a hot button topic for both hardcore fans and casual moviegoers, but the summer’s blockbuster movie season provided both an unequivocal gold mine and an early Christmas in the form of the boards for Paul Feig’s controversial “Ghostbusters” remake. In appearance, it is little more than one “insignificant” message board in a sea of message boards. On closer examination, it is literally the social media world’s personification of cancer, if such extreme comments can be believed (and in this case, it should).

A great deal of time was spent observing it’s home page, where the consensus was trashed the moment voting was opened, and that board, from the days leading up to the film’s release to the finalizing of this, to find the right way to describe it. It has consistently remained a breeding ground for bitter, entitled “fans” – to consider them in the same league as actual fans would truly be an insult – and their acolytes who have taken a sort of permanent residence to post onslaughts of bullying and antagonizing comments. Even a handful of the “haters” from the DC boards “take breaks” to swing over and fuel the flames alongside their “brothers and sisters in crime”, claiming “political correctness” and a collaboration between “SJW Feminazis” and “liberal cucks” – you know, every term that comprises the thoroughly lazy “alt-right” dictionary – have completely tarnished the history of a simple franchise with a special place in many hearts.

The constant “excuse” to defend their behaviors has been to blame Mr. Feig and the stars of the film for their harsh words over the criticisms that had circled around the production. But let’s be real here. It wouldn’t have mattered if Mr. Feig and his leading ladies stayed silent or adapted a form of online stoicism or even, to make a bold statement, made a film that managed to surpass the original. These “fans” made their minds up the moment the filmmakers and cast were set in stone and nothing was going to change them.

A number of these “posters” have also taken exceptional pride in their relentlessly vicious tirades against actress and comedienne Leslie Jones. When infamous online commentator and admitted troll Milo Yiannopoulis was justifiably banned from Twitter after a number of his fans went after her after reading Mr. Yiannopoulis’ review of the film (which was also highly critical of Ms. Jones’ features), they automatically sided with him and claimed Ms. Jones was incredibly “racist” against white people, citing a number of earlier Tweets that read like satirical observations of . When her personal information and photographs were hacked and spread online, these people and various social media sites took a further nosedive in terms of integrity and common decency, if such a thing even exist from such a clearly skewed perspective.

I was thinking of doing a ranking of who the “worst” offenders were – ranging from one poster who has taken to harassing Paul Feig on Twitter daily about the film’s box office performance to a woman who has openly attacked the film since Mr. Feig was announced as director in October 2014 – but there’s no way to say one is “worse” than another. These people are all “guilty as sin” and just genuinely arrogant and unlikable individuals who reflect the absolute worst of fan culture online.

“All cruel people describe themselves as paragons of frankness.” – Tennessee Williams

It isn’t just things like “Ghostbusters” or any popular film that’s bore the brunt of the trolling commentary. This type of behavior has also spread to a multitude of titles, usually the ones revolving different minorities.

Even before Nate Parker’s controversial past came to light on the eve of the release of “The Birth of a Nation” (which would ultimately slight his reputation and that of his film), people arrived to give the film a negative rating and make numerous degrading comments about how the film, a highly dramatized retelling of Nat Turner’s brief uprising against Virginian slave owners, was meant to instigate “race wars” that were sure to break out during screenings of the film (something that never happened, as I went to see it with a good number of people from varying races and all that happened after the movie were discussions of Nat Turner’s short lived revolution). Similar happened the previous year with the release of Tom Hooper’s “The Danish Girl”: negative ratings were immediately given following the film’s premiere at Venice and a slew of homo- and transphobic comments against Lili Elbe, the subject of the story, and actor Eddie Redmayne for playing Ms. Elbe (although most of the derision directed at Mr. Redmayne and Mr. Hooper came from incensed LGBT activists who found the idea of a male actor playing a transgender icon like Ms. Elbe insulting to her legacy).

While not as extreme an example as what goes on over at “Ghostbusters”, if one were to visit the board for Jeff Nichols’ recent Oscar nominee “Loving”, a handful of poster – including one claiming to be Meade Skelton, a Virginian country music singer known less for his music catalog and more for his thoroughly mocked social persona, as a number of Urban Dictionary entries highlighted – have made posts labeling the film as “propaganda” to “promote a gay agenda.” There’s something funny about such an argument being made when you think about it as there is never a mention of homosexuality in the whole film, although the real Mildred Loving came out in full support of same-sex marriage a year before passing. Parallels can certainly be drawn between what the Lovings went through to have their marriage legally recognized and the thin ice same-sex marriage has skated on, but if such a parallel isn’t even subtly alluded to in the story – and film has always been used as a medium to explore social injustices through subtle or blatant commentary – then forcing a connection feels more like a need for justified outrage.

And, as a capper, with the release of both Raoul Peck’s Oscarnominated documentary “I Am Not Your Negro” and the divisive trailer for Netflix’s upcoming adaptation of Justin Simien’s “Dear White People” (the “controversy” about that trailer will be part of another article that will be published close to the premiere of the series this April) has ushered in a slew of comments similar to the ones that plagued “The Birth of a Nation” and earlier prestige pictures that touched on similar subject matter and content. The pattern is the same: people who’ve made snap judgements based on the titles and no understanding of the subject matter apart from what they interpret from watching the marketing. Unsurprisingly, one or two posters from the “Ghostbusters” board have made appearances on those boards to “fan the flames” of any dissent.

“When a forest grows too wild, a purging fire is inevitable and natural…” – Ra’s al Ghul, ‘Batman Begins’.

Why is it people behave like this on such “open forums?” It’s easy: with the forms of anonymity message boards provide (when I log on, I only ever see my real name in a right hand corner of the main banner), there is little accountability to be had. When one can’t be held accountable for their comments, no matter how ludicrous, erroneous or heinous they may be, the ego is allowed to run rampant. This is something I have been just as guilty of as the subjects of this rather scathing opinion are. While my only defense is any acts of “antagonism” I have directed at others online have always been at people who have belittled others to begin with, there are examples where the term “total bastard” feels appropriate. If IMDb had sprung more money for moderators to monitor this behavior more closely and nip it in the bud when it got too out of control, it would ultimately be for naught as the damage has already been done. The ones who ultimately suffer are the posters who’ve done nothing, the ones who’ve calmly tried to maintain peace to little effect, but what happened with IMDb should serve as a reminder that commenting “freely” has its price when such freedom is abused as it was here.

(Col Needham; Creator of IMDb)

At the end of the day, there’s a hint of regret and nostalgia in watching the doors close. As an opinion-based cinephile whose love of film is a passion unto itself, there is admitted disappointment in watching the message boards that played such a big part in my growing up in the middle of the social media revolution disappear into the theoretical “eternal night.” But as someone who tries to see the best in people and has struggled to see even a glimmer of good in these people for over a year, perhaps this move is ultimately for the best until everyone, myself included, can learn to discuss differing points of view without allowing the conversation to deteriorate into a repetitive cycle of demeaning insults straight out of the works of French playwright Yasmina Reza.

About the Author

William Coffey
William is a first time film blogger, full time cinema enthusiast. When he's not writing about film, he's using his time to work on a number of screenplays and various op-eds about the state of film. He currently lives in Los Angeles.



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