How Some Users Are Trying to Save IMDB's Message Board
Citing a "net negative experience," IMDB will shut down their message board on February 20.
On February 7, 2017, IMDB CEO Col Needham took to the "Contributors Help" board to restate IMDB's decision, announced February 3, to shutter the site's message boards on February 20. He posted a FAQ that suggested that there is no replacement being planned, and follow-up posts confirmed what many had suspected: Needham named "outdated technology that is being phased out across IMDB" and low-traffic as contributing factors, but also pointed toward a "net negative boards experience" as a primary motivator for the elimination of the message boards. While sites like The Film Stage took to Twitter to ironically bemoan the death of "critical cinematic discourse," many frequent users of the IMDB boards are ready to fight for its survival.
Dan L., a frequent IMDB message board poster who declined to provide his surname, started a petition in the aftermath of the announcement. In less than one week he has already obtained nearly 8,000 signatures. Like most forms of social media, IMDB relies on its user base to contribute the majority of the site's content, and regular contributors cite the boards as tools for improving and correcting information on the site, especially for smaller, more obscure films. "Col Needham created IMDB but we the users ARE IMDB," Dan said. He feels that the decision to eliminate the boards without any input from its contributors is a "slap in the face."
Many users saw the message boards as more than just a place to discuss films. Dan said that, as an introvert, the IMDB boards give him a "voice." Other posters, like theskull42, said that friends he made there will be attending his upcoming wedding.
Colin Biggs, who now writes for websites like Birth.Death.Movies and Film School Rejects, credits the IMDB message boards as formative for him as a young film writer. He looks on his time as a poster fondly but admits that leading up to the 2008 election things already started to go south. "Fewer people were discussing movies," he said, "as much as they were slamming each other for politics." Recently he decided to revisit the boards and was dismayed that things only seemed to be worse, and now seemed to be "filled with people that Reddit would ban."
Users and outsiders point to pages like I Am Not Your Negro, a 2016 documentary currently screening in theaters, based on an unfinished novel by African American writer James Baldwin, as evidence of widespread hatred on the site. While the film has a 96 rating on Metacritic, its 5.7 on IMDB has led outlets like PBS to speculate that the film has become the victim of "vote brigading," a concerted effort to drive down the film's score. The film's most recent topics are polluted with hate speech, drowning out the possibility for discussion.
Many users feel that the abuse, ranging from vote manipulation to hate speech, could easily be solved through small improvements to the interface. As possible solutions, they suggest self-regulation (such as the upvote/downvote system of Reddit), more stringent policies on who can sign up, and stronger moderation.
Does anything else risk being lost along with the active community of posters? According to the FAQ addressing the closure of the boards, it seems that any information that has not already been archived in permanent parts of the site will also be deleted or at least made unavailable.
David Neary, a media audiovisual archivist who graduated from NYU's Moving Image Archiving and Preservation program, suggests in the same way the Library of Congress is archiving all of Twitter "because it is deemed culturally significant," IMDB has similar value for the history of film. If nothing else, IMDB should commit to preserving in one form or another the decade plus of conversations posted on their boards for future generations: the good, the bad and the ugly.