So the first reviews of Ghostbusters have trickled out, and even for someone like me who was fairly sure we’d be getting a funny but forgettable solid Hollywood summer movie, I was surprised at the positive response. As of this writing, it’s holding onto a 76 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and I would have bet you any money it would never top 60 percent. Most critics seem to like the film, with bad pacing in the third act and its being too beholden to the original as consistent complaints, but they praise the acting, visual effects and jokes.
There are several lessons to be learned from the long crybaby screamfest that has been the lead-up to Ghostbusters’ release, but the one I want to talk about today is downvoting YouTube videos. In short, it is a completely meaningless gesture.
That the first trailer for Ghostbusters is the most down-voted trailer in the site’s history is an interesting bit of trivia, but it’s not an actual determination of whether something is good, merely that a bunch of people didn’t like it. Or, more accurately, that a bunch of accounts didn’t like it. These sorts of manosphere tantrum targets typically involve a lot of sock-puppet accounts, something that a cursory look at the comments shows some people openly brag about doing.
Still, even though the numbers were obviously fishy compared to other trailers’ responses on YouTube, it seemed at least a little legit because a lot of people really, really hated the trailer in a very vocal way, even if they weren’t part of the sexist rage-nado. This gave the massive number of downvotes the appearance of an objective measure of how bad the trailer was, and by extension, the film itself.
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Which is exactly what these campaigns are designed to do. I recall following feminist video game critic Anita Sarkeesian’s appearance on ABC News about what it was like to be targeted by an online hate mob; you could see outraged detractors of hers on Twitter and Reddit complaining that no one noticed the YouTube dislike ratio of 31 to 1. As Sarkeesian disables ranking and comments on the videos she produces but ABC doesn't, the video was treated as the perfect opportunity for an organized gaggle of miscreants to try to create the appearance that she was widely detested.
ABC, however, doesn’t care that the video has tens of thousands of downvotes; they care that it has nearly half a million views, which a brief scroll through their channel’s other videos is a very good number for them. Likewise, Sony really doesn’t care that the Ghostbusters trailer has 900,000 downvotes; they care that 35 million have seen it. The former is an indicator maybe this film won’t be a critical darling, an award-winner or a sequel machine. The latter is an indicator that they’re probably going to make their money back, and that is all Sony is concerned with.
These anti-feminist mob rushes depend very heavily on a set of illusions. One, that they are far more numerous than they actually are. Two, that even those who don’t spend the time to create three separate online handles to yell about an all-woman Ghostbusters secretly think like they do and just won’t speak up for fear of the dreaded PC Police. Three, free speech is so star-spangled awesome that since they never, ever hold their tongues for anything, a lack of counter-speech indicates agreement. Creating false appearances of dislike, such as massive downvotes on a video, is one of the ways those illusions are maintained.
The reality is most of us have better things to do than wage this stupid of a culture war, and that if we see people being toxic and mean, we’re not going to engage them. We’re just going to leave. Maybe go see a movie or something, and leave the trolls to their ridiculous game.