Last week, the Rotten Tomatoes review site turned off a few long-standing features to combat a new kind of culture war on the internet. In advance of Captain marvel released, it stopped letting users leave comments before a movie launched, and removed a badge showing the percentage of people who indicated they wanted to see the movie. “Unfortunately,” a staff blog post said, “we have seen a slight increase in non-constructive contributions, sometimes bordering on trolling.”
Most online review platforms have encountered some sort of review bombardment – a term that broadly covers a coordinated effort to give a project an influx of negative ratings, based on a contentious issue that is tangential to the project. himself. Exam bombing is not universally condemned; in games, it has been used to protest against unpopular features that actually affect gamers, like draconian copy protection. But over the past two years, the most high-profile criticism bombing campaigns have targeted blockbuster movies for the sin of casting too many women and people of color. And that is prompting some review sites to think more carefully about designing a troll-proof platform.
During a call with The edge, a spokesperson said that Rotten Tomatoes (which is owned by the Fandango ticketing platform) has faced a new level of notice bombardment in the past 18 months. She said only a few films have been seriously targeted – including Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Black Panther, two big franchise episodes that implicitly or explicitly criticized racism and sexism. But trolls are becoming a standard risk for any great movie seen as too feminist or anti-racist, to the point where the studios are actively trying to counter the trolls themselves.
Rotten Tomatoes will now open comments after a movie premieres, and that won’t change the way users can review movies – ideally, once people start watching the movie, their bona fide positive and negative reviews. will overshadow bad faith comments from people who have neither seen it nor intend to. Rotten Tomatoes is still asking moderators to look for suspicious reviews and remove them after posting, and the spokesperson said he was considering an equivalent of Amazon’s “verified purchase” badge, which reviews could get if they bought tickets through Fandango.
It’s unclear how much Rotten Tomatoes is losing by shutting down pre-release comments. The spokesperson said they provide a really useful place for fans to come together, before they are swarmed with people who just want to fail a movie. But Metacritic and IMDb, two other major hubs for online movie review, do not have equivalent systems. And Letterboxd, a small community of movie reviews, is removing its own rating option ahead of release in the coming weeks – not because it has serious troll issues, but because it doesn’t want to develop them. .
Letterboxd co-founder Matthew Buchanan says the site was built with early reviews just to give users more options. “When we started building this thing, we were a really small team,” he says. At this point, the platform was so small that the trolls didn’t bother to exploit its weak spots. “We had a few [bad] scoring campaigns – for example, on restart ghost hunters movie. ”But he says they were scarce and generally overwhelmed with real ratings after launch.
“I guess we’ve kind of ignored that issue and put it in the basket of ‘bridges that we’ll cross when we get to them,’ Buchanan says. After seeing Rotten Tomatoes rework its policy, the team decided to make similar changes preemptively. Letterboxd will start freezing ratings until launch for films that seem likely to attract trolls, and then expand that change to cover the entire platform. “I don’t think we delude ourselves that as we get older there won’t be any more of this type of behavior to deal with.”
Ultimately, Rotten Tomatoes argues that review bombs don’t sabotage a film’s chances of success. The spokesperson pointed out that Captain marvel had garnered more pre-sales of Fandango tickets than almost any other Marvel movie – in fact, it’s currently pre-sold over all movie except Avengers: Infinity War. But at the very least, these campaigns can make review sites a nasty place to hang out – and like a lot of anger online, they don’t necessarily reflect what the majority of users are feeling.
No one has found a perfect solution for notice bombing campaigns. Some platforms have tried to create technical systems to defuse them. IMDb uses a secret weighting formula to calculate its star ratings. Thus, in what he calls “rare cases” of inauthentic mass reviews, he “takes into account many techniques for artificially inflating / deflating a title’s rating and attempts to neutralize their impact.” Conversely, the Steam Game Store asks users to spot review bombardments themselves by checking models and amounts of reviews – though games are still notoriously vulnerable in practice.
Reached for comment by The edge, a spokesperson for Metacritic said the site fixes the problem by not allowing users to rate movies or games in advance, and after release, asking moderators to “review the site regularly.” for suspicious reviews. This is a position similar to that taken by Rotten Tomatoes. Of course, if these platforms grow dramatically or if trolls step up their efforts, they might run into the same issues as YouTube or Facebook – whose human moderators are vastly outnumbered and often overworked, disheartened or even traumatized by the constant vitriol.
In the gaming world, where developers frequently update games in response to feedback, sometimes it’s hard to draw the line between meaningful protest and unnecessary anger. But film review platforms are currently facing a very specific problem: a limited group of people massively rejecting a handful of films for broad ideological reasons. And despite its limitations, this combination of human moderation and the removal of obviously exploitable features might still be the best solution yet. “We don’t have any illusions that there are no trolls on the Internet,” Buchanan says. “Our goal is really to de-amplify them and make it just boring or unsatisfying to try to be a troll on Letterboxd.”