Russian trolls blamed for perpetuating Star Wars: The Last Jedi abuse

More than half of hostile Twitter comments directed at director Rian Johnson were "likely politically motivated or not even human", a new report claims

Rey (Daisy Ridley) finds Luke Skywalker on Ahch-To (LucasFilm, HF)

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.

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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.

The film resulted in a fierce online backlash from some quarters, while one online campaign called for a remake in order to “save” the Star Wars canon.

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 The paper has not yet been peer reviewed.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”.

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.

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“This is specifically about a virulent strain of online harassment.”