A WarnerMedia report that was obtained by Rolling Stone reveals that bots and other forms of inauthentic users amplified the fan-led campaign that enabled Zack Snyder’s Justice League.
According to the report, over the course of several weeks in 2020, Zack Snyder had repeatedly demanded the removal of two producers’ names from the credits of his upcoming re-cut of Justice League: Geoff Johns and Jon Berg. This came after Snyder said they did not support the creation of the new film and do not deserve to be a part of the credits.
Justice League was originally released in 2017 and was notoriously a failure. According to the Rolling Stone article, when continued pleas for their (Geoff Johns and Jon Berg) removal from both Zack and his wife, Deborah Snyder, were ignored, Snyder confronted an executive in the postproduction department and issued the following threat:
“Geoff and Jon are dragging their feet on taking their names off my cut. Now, I will destroy them on social media.”
This is not the first instance of “toxic media” being brought into the equation surrounding the controversial director, in fact, according to the report, a “toxic social media movement” had been brewing since before 2018, which coalesced with the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut hashtag and movement which had catastrophic effects on the lives of many people working at Warner Bros at the time.
According to Tatiana Siegel’s article, while working on the Snyder Cut, Zack Snyder’s demands of the studio escalated behind the scenes; more money to finish the four-hour director’s cut of the film for HBO Max, and access to intellectual property, so too did the flood of attacks aimed at employees and executives of Warner Bros, such as through calls for boycotts, demands for executives to be fired, even down to death threats. Fans of what came to be known as the tyrannical SnyderVerse attacked anyone and anything that seemed like it might get in the way of Snyder and his movie.
The article mentions that the SnyderVerse’s onslaught included harassment that was so severe that Warner Bros got their cybersecurity and security division involved. The fans went after anything that seemed like it might take away from Zack Snyder’s Justice League and its limelight, such as threats against director Adam Wingward, who’s Godzilla vs Kong launched just under two weeks after Snyder’s Justice League, as fans review bombed the movie. Rolling Stone reports that Warner Bros lobbied IMDb to weed out troll reviews after “Snyder refused to call off his fans” which he denied.
Some movies like Wonder Woman 1984 received relentless backlash simply because Geoff Johns was a writer for the project. Third-party cybersecurity firms were brought in to analyse some of the cyberattacks that took place such as the instance where a fan account @Daniras_ilust posted a gruesome depiction of Geoff Johns, DC Films president Walter Hamada, and former Warner Bros. Pictures Group Chairman Toby Emmerich, all decapitated. Apparently, the movement escalated the image to the point of tagging the children of the trio depicted in the social media posts.
The Use Of Bots And Inauthentic Accounts
As the mayhem that was the SnyderVerse fandom continued to build, insiders at both WarnerMedia and Rolling Stone questioned how organic the legion really was. According to reports, it appeared that fans were amplified by a disproportionate number of fake accounts.
According to two reports that were commissioned by WarnerMedia and that were recently obtained by Rolling Stone, a staggering 13 percent of the accounts that took part in the discourse surrounding the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement and all the harassment that came with it were deemed fake. This is staggering because consulted cyber experts claim that while it is typical to see fake accounts surrounding trending topics, the number is usually closer to 3 to 5 percent, this being more than double.
Rolling Stone contracted two firms that track the authenticity of social media campaigns, Q5id and Graphicka, which spotted inauthentic activity coming from the SnyderVerse community, supporting Rolling Stone’s theory that the movement was spurred along by fake accounts.
Once the film was finally released after the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut hashtag saturated social media, a new hashtag immerged to take its place: #RestoreTheSnyderVerse, and the previous hashtag seemed to almost disappear overnight. According to a digital marketing executive, a massive drop in tweets of that scale can’t happen organically, and that this appeared to be a classic example of “weaponizing a movement”.
Rolling Stone asked three different cybersecurity and social media intelligence firms to look for evidence of inauthentic social media activity such as manipulating discourse through networks of inauthentic accounts or the use of software like bots to automate posts and engagement activity. Chief Information Officer and Chief Technology Officer of Q5id, Becky Wanta, told the publication “there’s no question that bots were involved.”
“There are certain patterns that bots give off that we saw. They arrive at almost the same time in huge numbers. And many times the origin of thousands or even millions of messages can be traced to a single source or two. Sometimes, they can be traced to unusual servers in remote countries. And their content will be precisely similar,” Wanta explains.
The Wrap recently reported to Rolling Stone that they suspected bots may have factored into Snyder winning two fan-favourite awards at this year’s Oscars as well.
Accusations Against Zack Snyder
Rolling Stone spoke to more than twenty insiders who were involved in the making of both versions of the film, and most believe that Snyder was working to manipulate the ongoing campaign. One source maintained that “Zack was like a Lex Luther wreaking havoc.” Snyder of course denied these allegations stating that if anyone was pulling strings it would most likely be Warner Bros.
A source told Rolling Stone that Snyder had in previous years hired a digital marketing firm to bolster fan engagement back in 2016 when his Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice received an abysmal 29 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and sources imply that he might have done the same now.
But Is This Another Tactic From Warner Bros?
Just when you thought everyone had moved on — Zack Snyder with his Netflix projects and Warner Bros. with their new DCEU projects — it seems the Warner Bros vs The SnyderVerse war has begun again.
Just hours after the post went live, Cyborg actor Ray Fisher slammed the Rolling Stone Zack Snyder’s Justice League report, disputing its claim that he declined to comment and pointed out the writer’s past error.
When Rolling Stone’s Editor-In-Chief, Noah Shachtman, revealed in emails that his team did reach out to his representatives, Fisher hit back again to reveal the time frame of the emails.
Of course, the timing of all this is also really off. It’s very strange that the article coincides with the release of Zack Snyder’s Justice League on digital. Read into it how you want, but it seems like the fight between the director (and his fans) and the studio is far from over.