Even in a year that gave us peak Q Anon, this may be the most 2018 conspiracy theory ever. There are people online who believe Netflix used bot accounts to spread viral memes about its record hit movie Bird Box.
The over-the-top apocalyptic thriller, which features a family making the perilous journey down a river in hopes of finding a community safe from invisible monsters that have taken over the world, is ripe with meme potential. The monsters inexplicably make victims commit suicide, which plays perfectly into the younger generation’s grimdark sense of humor.
Here’s a representative sample of Bird Box themed memes that have flooded Twitter feeds in recent days:
If you’ve watched Bird Box, you’d probably find these memes hilarious. But one influential Twitter user became convinced they were evidence of a conspiracy.
In a now-deleted tweet that gained more than 10,000 likes and 3,600 retweets before it was taking down, @samiswine claimed that Netflix is “using dozens of fake accounts with suspiciously low tweet/follower counts to seed Twitter with viral memes about their movie.”
In the viral thread, which is still accessible through archives, @samiswine also implied that Netflix was using “stolen pics” from minors’ profiles to make the accounts seem more real.
As with many conspiracy theories, the claim soon fell apart. Several accounts responded to @samiswine and denied that they were bots — they’re just teens who like making memes. One even apologized for not having many followers.
Y’ALL NEED TO LISTEN, IM NOT A BOT LMAOOOOO, like i swear to G o d, i’m a real person smh and i actually don’t know why the bird box tweet got so many likes, like i was surprised because it was my first time tweeting something, but then everyONE STARTED SAYING THEY WERE BOTS pic.twitter.com/LaGK97pdVn
— rebeca ✧･ﾟ: *✧･ﾟ:* (@uwueoeoeo) December 28, 2018
I’m sorry that I don’t have many followers and that my first tweet got so much likes and retweets but believe me I wish I was getting paid
I have nothing to do with neflix I just saw that picture and it reminded me of birdbox so I made that tweet.
— dasmeyeiii (@yeimir100) December 28, 2018
Lol this is hilarious I feel honored but this is just a conspiracy theory I just liked the movie and tweeted a meme about it that’s it
— Kick (@callmekick03) December 28, 2018
Netflix didn’t have an official response to the conspiracy. But a company representative said that “the meme content happened on its own and spread organically.”
So why all the sudden interest in Bird Box from people who never seem to tweet? Well, as Atlantic reporter Taylor Lorenz first pointed out, screenshots of tweets look really good on Instagram. They’re using you as a staging post, Twitter. They’re just not that into you.
Pretty sure this isn’t a Netflix conspiracy but just locals without a lot of followers tweeting memes. Also lots of people use twitter as basically a CMS for Insta. So they have a Twitter accts just to post memes and screenshot them for Insta because that format performs well. https://t.co/AgZzCENJC1
— Taylor Lorenz (@TaylorLorenz) December 28, 2018
As those who follow this stuff know, the classic meme format — block letters superimposed on an image — is now seen as out of date. Tweets have become the go-to template for memes. The accounts behind the viral Bird Box tweets very likely weren’t making them for Twitter, but for that sweet, sweet Insta clout.
As This Is Insider notes, teens and college kids are on their holiday breaks. They have time to watch movies and tweet about them, which would explain the influx of Bird Box content. Despite the film’s lukewarm reviews, people just liked watching Sandra Bullock wield a machete. Netflix reported that a record-breaking 45,037,125 accounts watched the movie in its first week.
Bird Box is dominating pop culture because Netflix seems to know how to hit the Generation Z sweet spot: make memeable movies, then release them when everyone’s done with school.
In an age where online troll attacks can literally turn out to be clandestine Russian operations, it’s not surprising that people might be a little freaked out. But this is a movie that sparked a bunch of memes. It’s not that deep.