Leave my reviewers alone!

Here at Above the Law, we try to remain supportive of anonymous commenting. There are definite benefits — sometimes they lead to scoops or important details for a story we might not otherwise get (for instance, see Adam Kaiser). But sometimes commenting crosses the line and can endanger lives or unfairly damage reputations.

Who knew that opinions about The Dark Knight Rises, which officially comes out tomorrow, would be so strong that Rotten Tomatoes, the well-known movie review aggregation site, was moved to shut down anonymous commenting because of the terrible things being said about reviewers who dared to criticize Christopher Nolan’s newest opus.

All the ATL editors are accustomed to a cornucopia of criticism about our physical characteristics and mental capacities. But we have to hand it to our commenters, you don’t threaten to murder or rape us that often….

The Los Angeles Times has the scoop from yesterday:

Holy Controversy, Batman! Rotten Tomatoes, the popular movie review website, said it took the unprecedented step of shutting down comments about early reviews of one of the most hotly anticipated movies of the year –“The Dark Knight Rises”– after remarks grew especially heated and even threatening.

“Death threats, rape threats are not OK, and that’s what was happening,” Matt Atchity, the site’s editor in chief, told the Los Angeles Times. “At one point, we had seven people dedicated to [moderating] comments,” he said, adding that he eventually had to disable all comments.

Atchity said the decision was made completely in-house, without any pressure from Warner Bros., the studio behind the “Batman” franchise. (Rotten Tomatoes is owned by social networking site Flixster.com, a Warner Bros. company.)

Wow, Rotten Tomatoes has almost twice as many comment moderators as Above the Law has editors. That’s commitment. Also, Americans REALLY care about their blockbusters.

Here is what Matt Atchity, the site’s editor in chief, told the Times:

He made the decision, he said, because the comments went far beyond the routine banter that takes place between a movie’s fans and its inevitable haters. “Whatever small role we play in the culture, I don’t want to be known as a site for hate speech,” Atchity said.

Honestly, I don’t think you have to worry about that, Matt. I’m pretty sure the world knows your website as… a place to look up movie reviews. I didn’t even know Rotten Tomatoes had a comments section until I saw all the breathless news that they had been closed for the new Batman movie.

To be clear, no one at Rotten Tomatoes had a problem with commenters hating on the movie itself (although how people were doing that is somewhat unclear, seeing as it hasn’t come out yet). It was the violent personal attacks against critics that gave the staff pause:

Atchity said he had no problem with complaints about the movie. It was the hateful comments aimed at individual critics that crossed the line, such as comments threatening to rape or kill them. The comments were coming in faster than Atchity and his team could handle them.

Eventually, he said, he chose the “nuclear option” of disallowing any more such comments.

You would think critics would be used to taking a little heat for their opinions. But still, and unsurprisingly, Rotten Tomatoes is now considering moving to a Facebook-based commenting system, just like every other media site does when something like this happens. (To be fair, nuking is a swell word choice for describing shutting down the comments.) And the lesson to the Internet is the same as it always is, just like Atchity wrote in his blog post. Namely, this is why we can’t have nice things.

Rotten Tomatoes shuts down ‘Batman’ comments after death threats [LA Times]


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