Brace yourselves: “The Flash entering the Speed Force” might not have won the Oscars’ “cheer moment” completely on its own merit. Rolling Stone reports that fake accounts, bots, and possibly a now defunct ad agency bolstered the online campaign to release Zack Snyder’s cut of Justice League on HBO Max.
First, some context. Snyder was the original director of DC’s ambitious Justice League film, released in 2017 and starring Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Ezra Miller, Ben Affleck, and Gal Gadot. He left the project after the death of his daughter and was replaced by Joss Whedon. After the Whedon-completed film bombed at the box office, a viral internet campaign to release Snyder’s version of Justice League reached a fever pitch via the hashtag #ReleaseTheSnyderCut, ultimately leading to the release of his four-hour version on HBO Max in March of 2021. But per Rolling Stone’s findings, two reports commissioned by WarnerMedia found that “at least 13% of the accounts that took part in the conversation about the Snyder cut were deemed fake.”
In public filings, Twitter has claimed that less than 5% of the daily active accounts on the platform are “false or spam,” which suggests that the fervor behind Snyder was buoyed by “a disproportionate number of bogus accounts.” The report goes on to note “an increase in negative activity by both real and fake authors” in regard to #ReleaseTheSnyderCut and #RestoreTheSnyderVerse. Negativity was directed toward Warner Bros. and the studio’s then chairman, Ann Sarnoff, for refusing to release Snyder’s film. (Sarnoff later called the online harassment she received from fans “reprehensible.”)
Rolling Stone implicates Snyder in the negative online campaign as well, alleging that the director himself might have played a role in weaponizing fans and bots against WarnerMedia and two producers—Geoff Johns and Jon Berg—whose names he wanted removed from his recut of the film. “Geoff and Jon are dragging their feet on taking their names off my cut,” Snyder reportedly said to an executive in the Warner Bros. postproduction department. “Now I will destroy them on social media.” After speaking with 20-plus people involved with the original Justice League and the Snyder cut, Rolling Stone reports that most believed Snyder was “working to manipulate the ongoing campaign,” with one source equating Snyder to DC supervillain Lex Luthor.
The article goes on to raise questions about the funding of a Times Square ad and a plane that flew overhead at Comic Con promoting the Snyder cut, suggesting Snyder might have been involved. (Snyder denied most of Rolling Stone’s claims, and said “if anyone” was manipulating people online, it was Warner Bros. “trying to leverage my fan base to bolster subscribers to their new streaming service.”)
The bots and the fake accounts allegedly did not end with the release of the Snyder cut. Per The Wrap, bots might have led to Snyder’s strong showing in the Oscars’ two fan-voted polls this year—for the fan-favorite and cheer-moment awards. Apparently, the bots are still up to no good. “We see clear signs of coordinated online activity from May and June this year, when multiple communities pushed hashtags promoting Zack Snyder and deriding Warner Bros.,” a data analyst told Rolling Stone.