A new investigation into the hostile response to Star Wars: The Last Jedi suggests that some of the ‘fan’ backlash could actually be the result of Russian bots.
An academic paper suggests that the angry reaction to the film may not have been as widespread as originally reported, claiming that more than half of the negative comments were made by “bots”, “trolls” and “sock puppets” rather than genuine fan accounts.
However, the work from US digital media expert Morten Bay suggests that the reaction was inflated in order “to propagate political messages supporting extreme rightwing causes and the discrimination of gender, race or sexuality”.
Bay, a fellow at the University of Southern California’s Center for the Digital Future, said in his paper that a high proportion of the Twitter comments he analysed were “deliberate, organised political influence measures disguised as fan arguments.”
Over 50 per cent of the comments directed towards Rian Johnson, The Last Jedi director, during a seven month period after the film’s release were made by “bots, trolls/sockpuppets or political activists,” Bay concluded, adding that, “A number of these users appear to be Russian trolls.”
The report analysed a total of 967 tweets directed at Johnson, using the messages’ language to identify whether the tweet was positive, negative or neutral. The paper has not yet been peer reviewed.
The racist and sexist comments made in the wake of the film’s release were widely reported on, particularly the abuse that Kelly Marie Tran, who plays Rose Tico, received online.
Johnson retweeted Bay’s paper and added: “What the top-line describes is consistent with my experience online”.
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
Johnson added, “And just to be totally clear: this is not about fans liking or not liking the movie – I’ve had tons of great talks with great fans online and off who liked and disliked stuff. That’s what fandom is all about.
“This is specifically about a virulent strain of online harassment.”