The Brexit vote. The 2016 U.S. presidential election. And … the online reaction to The Last Jedi.
What do all these events have in common? All were allegedly skewed by Russian trolls.
The Last Jedi accusation comes in a new paper by Morton Bay, a Research Fellow at the University of Southern California (George Lucas’ alma mater). Bay analyzed all tweets sent directly to Last Jedi director Rian Johnson over a seven month period after the movie’s release.
His conclusion? More than 50 percent were “bots, trolls/sock puppets or political activists using the debate to propagate messages supporting extreme right-wing causes and the discrimination of gender, race or sexuality,” Bay writes. “A number of these users appear to be Russian trolls.”
That last part is no mere guesswork; it’s based on the list of 2,752 accounts that Twitter itself identified as being linked to Russia’s Internet Research Agency, its so-called “troll farm.” Of the nearly 1,000 users that tweeted at Johnson in this period, 16 are suspected Russian accounts — and they appear to have been obsessed with hating the movie.
The majority of these “almost exclusively tweeted about The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson or right-wing politics, typically retweeting personalities from the right or alt-right,” the study says. Many repeated each others’ talking points, such as this tweet from the now-deleted account @MarcoSo94862885: “So, now explain why Mark Hamil [sic] didn’t like Luje [sic] in TLJ?”
The Russian accounts’ goal appears to have been the same as it was in Brexit and the 2016 elections: to pile on discord that already existed in U.S. society.
There were plenty of homegrown political activists attacking Johnson, too. Around 60 of the accounts were what you might classify as hardcore right-wing. Other than slapping Last Jedi, their tweets were virulently pro-Trump, pro-NRA, and anti-“SJW,” whatever they took that to mean. In other words, there’s a good deal of overlap here with the so-called GamerGate crowd.
The trolls, bots and alt-right haters made a lot of noise, to be sure. They cluster around hashtags such as #LastJediAwful. (They continue to do so in Johnson’s mentions, even after the study period ended in July). But Bay found they were in a clear minority: the number of accounts attacking the movie was less than 22 percent of all tweets sent to Johnson about The Last Jedi.
Take the automated accounts and IRA Russians out of the equation, and you’ll probably get something close to the results of other studies and surveys: The Last Jedi was viewed positively by roughly 90 percent of its audience. It’s also the bestselling Blu-Ray of 2018 thus far, beating even the mighty Black Panther.
Your move, Vladimir Putin.