Today (or tomorrow, depending on your time-zone), the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), the largest and most comprehensive movie database on the web, will delete and disable its message-board function. This announcement came from its founder-CEO Col Needham on February 7, who claimed users have two weeks to archive any material on the message boards they wish to keep. He also claimed the reason for this deletion of the message-boards was because they were “no longer providing a positive, useful experience for the vast majority of our more than 250 million monthly users worldwide.” Although they determined this from “careful consideration and was based on data and traffic”, I don’t think IMDb has authority on what is deemed a ‘positive, useful experience’, especially if they had no user feedback affecting this decision.
Personally, I feel this is a disastrous decision for them to make and will negatively affect the IMDb community that is made up of its (mostly) reliable users. The message-boards on IMDb were unique because they had one for every single film, as well as for every single episode of any TV show, listed on the site. Discussions on popular and newly released films could be in-depth and offer up plenty of fan theories, criticisms, analyses, and general bickering. Even if you took a look at the message board of a more obscure film, you may still see some great discussions and opinions that date back to years or decades ago.
The downside to this positive, useful experience was that, like all other free havens for online discussions, it could here and there be plagued with xenophobia and hateful comments. As troubling as that is, removing such comments (along with all other non-hateful comments) is not only counter-productive and does nothing to eradicate hateful ideologies from these people, but also stifles all of the positivity from the message boards. Because of the xenophobes, now everyone must be punished alongside them. It’s disturbing to see that IMDb would rather eliminate all discussion, good or bad, than engage with the bad comments in an effort to provide thoughtfulness and education for the troubling discourse.
Publications like The Guardian, The Wrap, and The Hollywood Reporter have cited the IMDb page of the recent documentary I Am Not Your Negro as the tipping point for this decision. These publications blame the skewed voting system (which had folks vote down the doco before its release), but that’s to do with voting and has nothing to do with the message boards. These same publications also claim the doco’s message boards were filled with racist content by users, but a quick look at that message board now reveals users complaining about the racism on that board … and no actual racism. It must’ve been stamped out after all by IMDb, so good on them for that, but I suppose continuing this rigorous policing system is far too costly for them.
Like some other cinephiles, I have a habit/ritual of going down the IMDb page of every film I see, looking through its trivia, sometimes its goofs, a few user reviews, and then the message-boards where there may just be some further useful information and analysis of the film. With the message-boards gone, it’s hard to say what will replace them. Blockbuster films have plenty of areas online to discuss them, as do some of the more popular art-house filmmakers out there, but the more obscure and lesser discussed films will really struggle to get talked about at all.
With just hours to go before IMDb pulls the plug on this useful and involving communal feature from their site, feel free to flood any and every message board on their site with spam, trolling, links to pornographic material, and general Dadaistic dicking around because it’s all just going to be removed soon anyway – may as well go out with a bang. After the message boards are gone, who knows what the future of IMDb will be like. Perhaps they’ll decide to remove rankings for films, or maybe the cast and crew information, or maybe they’ll get rid of all the pages for films and TV shows. Even though the site is built off of mostly user-generated content, it’s not our IMDb, it’s theirs.