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Were Russian trolls behind the ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ backlash?

October 2, 2018

Were Russian trolls behind the ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ backlash?

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Russians meddled with the 2016 election and, apparently, online reviews of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” too.

That second part is the conclusion of a study by researcher Morten Bay titled “Weaponizing The Haters: The Last Jedi and the strategic politicization of pop culture through social media manipulation.”

Though “The Last Jedi” received generally positive reviews from critics and moviegoers, the film was harshly criticized by supposed die-hard fans on the Internet. On Rotten Tomatoes, the second chapter in the “Star Wars” sequel trilogy only mustered a 45 percent audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, an alarmingly bad score for a film that received a 91 percent favorable rating from critics and even worse than the universally panned “Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones.”

In the paper, Bay blames much of the negative reaction to “The Last Jedi” on “deliberate, organized political influence measures disguised as fan arguments.”

Bay writes that of the nearly 1000 Twitter users he analyzed, only about 22 percent were negative towards the movie. Of those, “50.9% of those tweeting negatively was likely politically motivated or not even human.”

Furthermore, Bay identified 33 accounts belonging to trolls or what he calls “sock puppets” (trolls using fake accounts). Of those, about half of the accounts appeared to be Russian.

He writes,

7 of the 16 had auto-generated handles consisting of a very common, English name followed by a series of seemingly random digits, and five of those seven had not uploaded a profile image, a combination which according to the studies mentioned above, is a typical characteristic of Russian troll accounts. One such account tweeted at Rian Johnson, with only little lingual variation from tweet to tweet, that he “ruined Star Wars” no less than 13 times during a three-week period, along with other tweets disparaging the director. In addition to these tweets, the vast majority of other tweets on the account were retweeted messages from Donald Trump and black conservative activist and commentator Candace Owens.

The purpose of the interference, Bay writes, is the same as it was during the election: “to disrupt and sow discord in American society.”

Bay admits trolls or people with a political agenda weren’t the only sources of negativity. There were also genuine, passionate “Star Wars” fans who were simply disappointed by the movie.

Still, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” has hauled in more than $620 million domestically at the box office, making it the second highest grossing movie in the franchise.

A bit of Morten’s research came out awhile ago and made some headlines - here’s his full paper. Looking forward to reading it, but what the top-line describes is consistent with my experience online. https://t.co/MTRgmPxGgZ— Rian Johnson (@rianjohnson) October 1, 2018

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