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Apparently, That Whole #ReleaseTheSnyderCut Thing Was Fueled By Bots

Hey, remember the #SnyderCut thing? How an online army of fans goaded Warner Bros. into letting Zach Snyder rework his Justice League box office bomb into a massive, four-hour cut for HBOMax? It was among the most successful hashtag fan campaigns of all time, a seeming turning point for the amount of say a social media fandom could have over a pricey piece of intellectual property. Or, so it seemed at the time.

Something must have seemed a little off to Warner Bros. about the whole thing, because they commissioned an investigation into the online accounts that fueled the campaign, and what they found was pretty bizarre. A large chunk of those accounts were bots and fake accounts, as Rolling Stone found in their scoop on the report.

Between three and five percent of the accounts that are part of any online conversation are bots, and Twitter estimates that less than five percent of its active daily accounts are fake. By contrast, 13 percent of the accounts involved in the #SnyderCut movement were fake, around three or four times more than any normal Twitter conversation.

So, yes, Snyder fans are real and they were part of a passionate movement to restore the Justice League to the filmmaker’s original vision after Joss Whedon took over and made some substantial changes. But a disproportionate chunk of that movement wasn’t real at all and, more troubling, those bots and fake accounts were part of generating negative posts — not just campaigning for Snyder’s vision but threatening anyone who stood in the way.

From the report:

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“After researching online conversations about the Snyder Cut of the Justice League‘s release, specifically the hashtags ‘ReleaseTheSnyderCut’ and ‘RestoreTheSnyderVerse’ on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, [analysts] detected an increase in negative activity created by both real and fake authors. One identified community was made up of real and fake authors that spread negative content about WarnerMedia for not restoring the ‘SnyderVerse.’ Additionally, three main leaders were identified within the authors scanned on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram — one leader on each platform. These leaders received the highest amount of engagement and have many followers, which gives them the ability to influence public opinion.”

It’s a wakeup call for all of us, truth be told. The odds that you’ve spent time engaging in rigorous political, cultural or even theological online debate with a bot is pretty high. The consequences of mistaking a bot army for real-life fans isn’t all that severe when the result is a lavish director’s cut of a superhero movie. But when bots mobilize behind public policy or social causes, it’s not hard to see how this could be a real problem.

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