Cheeky headline, but it is at least partly true. Monday night, Rolling Stone released a comprehensive report of how the “SnyderCut”, Zack Snyder’s $100 million mulligan of The Justice League, came to be, and guess what? Just as everyone who has ever used social media already knew, there was a bot army involved. This is just the tip of the iceberg, though, because the meat of the report, by Tatiana Siegel with an assist by Adam Rawnsley, is that Snyder himself was involved. At the very least—and I have said this before—he stood by and did nothing to mitigate highly toxic behavior from his fans. At worst, he actively participated, allegedly hiring a (now defunct) ad firm to utilize social media bots and fake accounts to gin up the SnyderCut phenomenon and make it seem bigger than it really was.
A few key facts:
- Warner Brothers was so suspicious of the online activity they commissioned an outside firm to examine it and that firm found 13% “inauthentic” activity on the SnyderCut hashtags, substantially higher than the average 5% inauthentic activity typical to Twitter.
- Rolling Stone also had a third party firm investigate, and found comparable numbers of inauthentic activity.
- The SnyderCut cost Warners $100 million to release on HBO Max last year, money spent, as one unnamed Warners source says, “while people were losing their jobs at the studio for a director’s cut of a film that already lost hundreds of millions.”
- James Gunn’s Suicide Squad and Godzilla vs. Kong, both movies review-bombed by the Snyder faithful, outperformed Zack Snyder’s Justice League on HBO Max.
- Zack Snyder denies any involvement in the SnyderCut campaign, and also denies that he took and held hard drives from the studio containing Justice League material for years.
- There is, however, an August 2021 settlement with the studio that involved Snyder returning “materials he’d confiscated”.
- The Wrap reported earlier this year that bot activity was detected in the Oscars online voting polls for “Best Cheer Moment” and “Fan Favorite Moment”.
To preemptively cut off some nonsense I’ve already seen online:
- No one is saying bots are 100% of the Snyderbros online. The reports only indicate bot activity and fake accounts enhancing and amplifying an actual organic fan movement. Snyderbros can stop going “I guess I’m a bot LOL” because no one said that. Just that bots were involved, which was patently obvious to those of us who have dealt with online harassment before.
- The fans should be excited about the proof of bots and fake accounts, because they could then blame the photoshopped images of Warners executives being decapitated that circulated online on the fakes. Some of those images were directed to the executives’ children.
- Yes, Snyderbros donated money to charity in the past—Snyder reminds Siegel of this in the article—but no, that does not negate the bullsh-t bad behavior. One good deed does not erase a bad one. They simply coexist. (Worse, the charity giving is continuously used as a shield for the toxicity which makes it look less altruistic and more strategic.)
While much of what is in Siegel’s reporting was already suspected/known by those of us who covered the SnyderCut for years, it is helpful to have the whole timeline laid out, and to bring up salient points like “Who paid for those expensive ad stunts like the billboard in Times Square, because there was no Kickstarter, etc, for that”. Studios are going to HAVE to get up to speed on how online harassment and targeted toxic behavior works. This report goes a long way to outlining what a toxic online movement looks like, the warning signs, and steps to take to verify what you’re really dealing with. Basically, a relatively small group of disgruntled nerds platformed with fake accounts to trick Warner Brothers into spending $100 million on a movie that already flopped. I would be more into the heisty nature of that, except I’ve got years of rape/death threats under my belt, and I have zero f-cks left to give for this business.
Also, I don’t love the implication that Ray Fisher’s allegations of on-set toxicity from Joss Whedon were, if not manufactured, then calculated to feed the SnyderCut movement. Two things can be true: Joss Whedon behaved badly on that set and key figures at Warner Brothers tried make the whole thing go away, and the SnyderCut phenomenon was being manipulated with bots and fake accounts. Those aren’t necessarily related events and conflating them smacks a little too much of trying to diminish Ray Fisher’s experience by rolling all of it up into one noxious ball. Justice League had a lot of problems, that much has become clear over the years, and enough people who worked with Whedon across years and different productions told stories that aligned with Fisher’s representation of a toxic boss. It’s entirely possible all this crap was going on AND Ray Fisher has valid reasons to speak out about Joss Whedon.
As for Snyder’s involvement, there is no smoking gun, but Siegel lays out a compelling case that Snyder at least understood what was happening—he told one reporter his fans were “pretty, pretty, pretty rough”—and did nothing to stop it. Again, that much was obvious. But I think it’s pretty clear he was also manipulating the situation. Who hired that ad firm that boasted of “bringing cheap, instant avatar traffic to your website”? Who DID pay for those expensive marketing stunts? He didn’t remove hard drives from the studio, but then he reached a settlement to return “confiscated materials”?
I don’t think there will ever be total clarity, but it certainly looks like Zack Snyder used shady tactics to whip up his fanbase to target and harass the Warner Brothers executives whom he perceived as his “enemies”. It’s just too coincidental that every exec who stood between him and re-releasing a new version of Justice League ended up on the wrong end of this mob. And it’s all moot now, anyway, because we’re like, three regime changes removed from the people who were involved with Justice League and the following SnyderCut debacle. There’s new leadership at a new entity, Warner Bros. Discovery. WarnerMedia, under which much of this happened, no longer exists. So please, PLEASE, let this be the final word on the SnyderCut.