- Brian Borg
Spoiler Jihad: Clearing The Air
Today I want to tackle one of the most controversial things to happen within the Star Wars fandom in the past two years, the "Spoiler Jihad" of 2015. My intention with this piece is to reveal a bit more of what really happened in December of 2015 when stories started circulating about a certain Expanded Universe fan group banding together to spoil the soon to be released Star Wars Episode VII. The point of this is to reveal what happened and to clean the air between the various fan groups, something Twin Suns Foundation believes to be critical to our charity efforts and to advance the goals of the Expanded Universe Movement. I am speaking to you as someone who was inside the group during these events and who became personally involved in efforts to get the truth out in the days following. So bear with me as this story may get lengthy, but it will contain irrefutable proof of what happened and hopefully will open some eyes. So what is this "spoiler jihad" anyway? For those unaware, on December 14/15, 2015 (depending on where you were in the world), screen shots taken within a closed Facebook group, The Alliance to Preserve the Expanded Universe, were taken. The screenshots were of a post made late in the night, U.S. time when all admins were offline. It depicted a conversation between a handful of members, roughly four or five individuals, within the 3,500+ person closed Expanded Universe fan group. The individuals in the image appeared to be conspiring to spoil Episode VII for as many fans as possible in a sort of retaliation for the discontinuation of the Star Wars Expanded Universe. Presented below is a copy of those screenshots taken from articles still found on the internet today. (Albeit with names and pictures blacked out for their privacy.)
Understandably, this image was a hot item to news outlets, as they would take the screenshot and, without asking many questions or doing any further research, they would post the story with the screenshot insisting that the entire group was out to ruin the movie for fans everywhere. Their story would quickly be picked up by larger media outlets around the world. And that is the incident known as the "Spoiler Jihad" in the Star Wars fandom today. We have a lot to discuss before what actually happened becomes clear. So let us start at the beginning. How did those screenshots even make it out of the closed group? A valid question and place to start. After all, this would never have happened in screenshots had not been released from inside the group in the first place. So how did it happen, or perhaps a better question, who would do this? Quite simply it comes down to a disgruntled former member of the group who was sore over having their account, and several backup accounts, removed from the group for various rule violations.
It is possible this person was out to destroy the largest expanded universe continuation effort at the time all along, but we are not here to prove the validity of that claim. Regardless, things did not escalate until after the removal of several of this person's accounts that had been used for similar trolling attempts which had used screenshots of member conversations in the closed group to put them in compromising positions whenever possible. This person was especially good at using those screenshots if they omitted context. Yours truly was one of the last targets prior to this person's discovery and subsequent removal. After their removal, the individual had been dead set on dismantling The Alliance to Preserve the Expanded Universe, attacking specific members repeatedly and later on, the greater Expanded Universe Movement. Unfortunately for The Alliance to Preserve the Expanded Universe that December, they did not successfully remove all of this person's accounts from the group.
Note the date of this screenshot taken from one of this person's twitter accounts. November of 2015. This clearly establishes that they had a presence in the group despite attempts to remove them in the past prior to December 15 of 2015. So how do we know it was this person who ended up being the one to screenshot the conversation that was the spark for all of this? Easy, aside from past behavior, this person also told the world that it was them, gloating that they were responsible.
Couple this screenshot taken the day of the article release with the above information and the picture begins to become clear. A person with a motive to destroy the group took a screencap of a conversation that was against group policy and used it to spin a false narrative. Wait, against group policy? Where is my proof of that? Well I am happy you asked as I dug up an old screenshot of a post made just four days before the articles hit the internet.
Again, note the date of this post and the fact that it comes from within the group. In fact, that post can still be found today if you were to have an account in the group. The post clearly states that any and all posts regarding Episode VII are to be relegated to a post that would be made the following Friday, which would be December 18 of 2015. The post also indicates that any and all posts made about The Force Awakens were subject to immediate removal unless they were a part of the yet unposted discussion thread. Finally the post makes it clear that the group was Expanded Universe focused and that discussions about The Force Awakens were not to be had in that group. In other words, the very thing the group is accused of doing is quite literally impossible according the group's own policy/rule post just four days prior. For this to not be the case, it would mean that a drastic shift in group policy would have had to happen in that time frame and that is quite the stretch for a group that large and that dedicated to ignoring "DisCanon" as they called it at the time. Okay, so we have established a motive behind this being false and who was behind it and we have established a defense for the group with evidence backing all of this up. Why, then, did the media end up picking this questionable story up as though it were fact? Surely they did some research or at least a little digging before posting. That so many news agencies posted about it must mean there was some truth to it, right?
Well, let us look at the first outlet to break the story, Bleeding Cool, and think about why they would forgo any investigative journalism in favor of taking a random person's screenshots and story as irrefutable fact. There are only a few reasons I can think of for that, personally. 1) This person is a regular article contributor for Bleeding Cool. Based on available evidence, this does not appear to be the case. The writing style, grammar, and other hints all point to this being someone not directly related. Which brings us to the second possibility...
2) The author knew the person who took the screenshots and gave them the story. This is closer to what we in the Expanded Universe Movement believe to be fact based on current evidence. Between the gloating screenshot already presented and several other factors, including this intermediaries' prior interactions and stance towards the group and its members coupled with a YouTube video of theirs indicating the connection to Bleeding Cool, it was not a difficult conclusion to draw. Also not a difficult conclusion to draw was the connection between this intermediary and the person who did the screencap. The fact that these individuals are in regular contact is abundantly clear given their frequent chatter all over Facebook groups related to Star Wars. Additionally, this intermediary was quick to start pushing the Bleeding Cool article on their Facebook page that had a considerable audience size in excess of 100,000 followers at the time. That it happened so quickly means they knew the article was coming as it is far less likely they just happened by the article and could share. So it is not hard to believe Bleeding Cool would take this intermediaries' words that had been conveyed by the original person behind the screencaps, as fact especially if they knew this intermediary well.
3) This is probably the most irrefutable of all the possibilities and is likely coupled with the second one. The media of today's world does not care for fact or fiction. They care about ratings and, in the case of internet based media, clicks. That gives them revenue. There can be no doubt that, in the days just before Episode VII's release, a story about fanboys out to spoil the movie for everyone would get a ton of clicks, especially when recalling how anticipated the movie's release was.
So we can begin to understand why Bleeding Cool posted this story without fact checking. We also understand how it likely got into their hands in the first place. So what happened that got the story to larger news media outlets that people actually see every day? Enter Yahoo News. While the details of how the story got to them are still not clear today, what is clear is that they too are guilty of the sensational story without fact checking as mentioned was the case with Bleeding Cool. Yahoo's audience reach is hundred of thousands at minimum, millions likely. A story like this would equal huge revenue for them if it caught on. And boy did it catch on. Their article, which can still be found on their website today, contained links to the Bleeding Cool article and to the Alliance to Preserve the Expanded Universe on Facebook. The original article also included an image of the screenshots and did not bother bluring out the names of those in the screenshots. In otherwords Yahoo, and later other outlets including Techtimes, The Guardian and more, painted a huge target on the group, the individuals in the screenshots and later it would become clear anyone who was a member shared this fate. Presented now are a few of the screenshots received by The Alliance to Preserve the Expanded Universe's public page at the time. I have had to edit these pretty heavily due to the language and names mentioned, but the message is still abundantly clear.
These threats were repeated numerous times by numerous different individuals to members of the Alliance to Preserve the Expanded Universe, affiliated pages and more across the internet after the story went live. The group and its members were being verbally assaulted by an infuriated fanbase, and, as we have already established, it was all undeserved. But that meant little to Yahoo News or any other news agency that shared this story with unedited images and an unwillingness to hear more about what actually happened.
I know this because that is where I became directly involved.
This screenshot is of an email I sent the day the article was released on Yahoo News. It was one of my many attempts to get in touch with them and other news agencies regarding their article. I had attempted to get these articles removed, corrected, or at least get the images edited. When I suggested, over a phone call, that the people being threatened could turn around and sue their company, they finally relented in editing the images so that the names were blurred, but they left the original link to the article that had the image unaltered. It was a minor victory and ultimately pointless as, by the time this was done, two days had passed.
So what happened to the original post that was in the screenshot?
Quite simply as the policy already given above indicated, it was deleted. Those involved in the post were also disciplined in the form of either temporary or permanent removal from the group. But not one of the news agencies reporting on the story cared about that, or the truth. And the damage was ultimately already done. The result of the "Spoiler Jihad" was a blow to the Alliance to Preserve the Expanded Universe in the form of the group having to end all recruitment efforts and new member acceptances for a few months afterwards. Its reputation, despite all the positive things it has generated in the two years since, continues to be regularly dragged through the mud. The group lost members due to the threats they had received, not willing to put up with the onslaught. Those who remained were understandably furious about the entire situation and remain quite edgy whenever they see the topic brought up to this day. Which brings me to the next question.
Why bring this up two years later?
It is simple. Today there are signs that the same individuals responsible for the first "Spoiler Jihad" frame job are setting up another one. Recently a new page, which will remain unnamed here, has popped up indicating its intention to spoil upcoming Disney films and claiming to be associated with the Expanded Universe Movement. Even as I type this article for submission, people in neutral areas of the Star Wars fandom are spreading it around as the truth that "the EU fans are out to ruin another movie" as we approach the release of episode VIII. Basically a spoiler jihad continuation of sorts. Obviously that is not the case. Expanded Universe Movement policy in regards to spoiling Episode VIII or any other movie has been made clear on many of its member pages. A universal denouncement of doing anything like this is not hard to find within the movement. It is irrefutable and quite public. While many Expanded Universe fans will never see Episode VIII like they never saw Episode VII, they have no intention of ruining the movie for those who do want to see it. Why? As indicated in my previous clearing the air article, Expanded Universe fans know how it feels to have Star Wars ruined for them. They do not wish that on any other fan. Instead they divert all effort towards obtaining that continuation of the Legends timeline someday. So why would they ever back such an effort?
Simple answer, they wouldn't.
Star Wars fans, there needs to be an understanding in the fan community. It is my hope that this article and my previous article helped to clear some of that dirty air hovering over the gap between us all out there. I remain convinced that we all ultimately want the same thing, more Star Wars to enjoy. I see no reason why we have to get in each other's way and no reason why we cannot help one another to make that happen. If anyone has any questions regarding this Spoiler Jihad, I would be happy to entertain them in the comments below. This was a lengthy article with a lot to go over and there is some I had to keep out in favor of keeping this one a reasonable length!
Thank you all, and may The Force be with you!