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Rotten Tomatoes Removing Audience Ratings And Comments During Films' Pre-Release Period

Rotten Tomatoes is making things a little more garden-fresh moving forward. 

The review aggregator has announced that, as of Monday, February 25, it will no longer display any audience ratings or comments before a film's official release. 

More specifically, Rotten Tomatoes won't show the "Want to See" rating for a movie while it is still in its pre-release window, as many have mistaken that statistic as the "Audience Score." Those two numbers are quite different: the former represents the percentage of Rotten Tomatoes-registered users who are interesting in seeing a film and who have recorded their response in the time before said movie opens in cinemas; the latter is the figure for the percentage of positive reviews audience members with Rotten Tomatoes accounts have given a film after its debut. 

After a movie is released (or a television show premieres), Rotten Tomatoes will display at the top of its page the critics consensus followed by the Tomatometer score that represents critics' reviews of the film and, immediately to the right of that number, the Audience Score. Beneath both figures will be a counter that shows how many Rotten Tomatoes-associated reviews a given movie (or series) has and how many user ratings have been submitted for it. 

Rotten Tomatoes will also disable audience comments prior to a film's release date, and will redesign the site to offer visitors a "cleaner, less cluttered, presentation of the Tomatometer and Audience Score." Again, as soon as a movie hits theaters, Rotten Tomatoes will open the floodgates and allow anyone with an account on the aggregator site to type out their thoughts about it. 

These changes are part of Rotten Tomatoes' continued efforts to "streamline the site and provide users with a more enriched experience," to "refresh and modernize" the audience rating system, to "more accurately and authentically represent the voice of fans," and to safeguard the site's data and forums. 

"Over the past 18 months, we've made a number of updates at Rotten Tomatoes, all in an effort to streamline the site and provide users with a more enriched experience. These updates include the launch of a new visual identity (you don't hate the red anymore, right?); the creation of new original editorial, video, and social content (check us out on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram); and a revamped Tomatometer critics criteria that better reflects the current media landscape, increases inclusion, and more fully serves the global entertainment audience," Rotten Tomatoes explained in an editorial post issued on February 25. 

The post continues, "Starting this week, Rotten Tomatoes will launch the first of several phases of updates that will refresh and modernize our Audience Rating System ... we will no longer show the 'Want to See' percentage score for a movie during its pre-release period. Why you might ask? We've found that the 'Want to See' percentage score is often times confused with the 'Audience Score' percentage number. (The 'Audience Score' percentage, for those who haven't been following, is the percentage of all users who have rated the movie or TV show positively — that is, given it a star rating of 3.5 or higher — and is only shown once the movie or TV show is released.) What else are we doing? We are disabling the comment function prior to a movie's release date."

It goes on to explain the reasoning behind closing off the comments section before a film opens: Rotten Tomatoes has noticed the rising trend of review bombing, a nasty and increasingly popular phenomenon that involves hordes of people collectively leaving negative reviews for a movie, TV show, game, or other piece of media or product en masse in efforts to tear down the work and/or attack those involved in its production. This has happened countless times in the past, but the most recent examples of review bombing were for Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Black Panther, and Captain Marvel, which was struck with a wave of hatred that saw the yet-to-be-released superhero flick sink to the lowest audience rating out of any Marvel movie in history.

"Unfortunately, we have seen an uptick in non-constructive input, sometimes bordering on trolling, which we believe is a disservice to our general readership. We have decided that turning off this feature for now is the best course of action," the Rotten Tomatoes statement details. "Don't worry though, fans will still get to have their say: Once a movie is released, audiences can leave a user rating and comments as they always have."

It concludes, "Last but not least, you will notice we are making some layout changes to the site. Through our research department we have learned that our users would prefer a cleaner, less cluttered, presentation of the Tomatometer and Audience Score. Don't worry, the information and data are still there (promise!). We hope you enjoy these changes. Please leave feedback in the comment section below. We are taking notes. Thanks for reading, and we'll see you at the movies."

People have already grabbed their pitchforks and shouted (via keyboard and mouse, but maybe also out loud in the comfort of their own homes) at Rotten Tomatoes for implementing these updates. 

The top comment on the announcement post accuses the aggregator of being "no longer impartial" because it won't display audience input until after a film's release. "Losing most of its value as review aggregator, while censoring the readers opinion doesn't seem like a good editorial choice to me," the comment reads. 

Another commenter agreed, stating that they likely wouldn't be visiting Rotten Tomatoes any more because of the new system: "Losing the pre-release comments and the percentage of 'Want to see' greatly reduces the value that RT brought. I have very little reason to visit this site anymore." 

Plenty more are slamming Rotten Tomatoes' decisions as "censorship," and stating that the site will become an "echo chamber" that will ultimately reduce Rotten Tomatoes to irrelevancy. 

"This is really sad. Rotten Tomatoes now describes what this website has become, really rotten. They have lost all respect among movie fans all over the world. Just [proves] all along that RT has been in the back pocket of Disney all along," said one commenter. Added another, "Not very happy about the relegation of the very important average rating to a secondary view. Well at least it's still there. The Tomatometer measures consensus but doesn't make any distinction between a critic just barely liking a movie or absolutely loving it. The average rating will remain the real measure of a movie's quality in the eyes of critics."

While there are definite benefits to Rotten Tomatoes disabling the comments and only displaying the audience score after a movie is out in theaters, an enormous potential drawback of these choices is that they might have the adverse intended effect. Rotten Tomatoes may want to make the site more constructive and less troll-y, but these changes could motivate the exact same people who have review-bombed in the past to do so in greater measure in the future. Some might take this action as Rotten Tomatoes trying to silence audiences, which could lead to a growing number of people organizing and partaking in smear campaigns against films they don't like — whatever the reason for it may be. 

Hopefully all will be well in Rotten Tomatoes land from here on out, but there really is no definitive way to keep trolls out and only non-biased people in. Where there are movies (especially ones starring women and people of color, sadly), there will be legions of angry people hating on them simply for existing.