New research claims more than half of the attacks tweeted at director Rian Johnson were politically motivated, with many coming from Russian accounts and bots.
One of the most polarizing debates of the past year had nothing to do with politics, or did it? "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" spurred a love/hate debate that hasn't been seen since the presidential election, and it looks like a similar cause may be at the root of it.
According to a new research study by Morten Bay, who looked into tweets sent directly to director Rian Johnson, more than half of them appeared to be more politically motivated than fan motivated. In fact, only 21.9 percent of the tweets analyzed appeared to be from genuine "Star Wars" fans disillusioned by the film.
"A number of these users appear to be Russian trolls," Morten writes of the remaining "haters" in his paper, entitled "Weaponizing the Haters: 'The Last Jedi' and the strategic politicization of pop culture through social media manipulation."
Johnson shared the study through his social media page on Monday, saying that his own experiences with fans seems to line up with what Morten said about the actual percentages of them that disliked the movie.
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
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.
The vitriol that emerged online was enough to drive Kelly Marie Tran, who plays Rose Tico in the franchise, from social media altogether, as well as create a divide in both the fandom and society at large over this boorish online behavior. And it turns out, according to Morten, that may have been the motivation.
He said he found "evidence of deliberate, organized political influence measures disguised as fan arguments." Their motivation wasn't about the film at all, but about continuing and even furthering the growing political divide in the United States, thus undermining the effectiveness of its democracy.
And it wasn't just Russian trolls attacking Johnson; there was plenty of hate coming from the alt-right movement, which has been behind the "Gamergate" controversy and even convinced Disney to fire James Gunn from "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3" over decade-old terrible jokes.
Morten writes that just over 50 percent (50.9 percent, to be exact) of the attacks Johnson received personally came from "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."
And so once again, the truth has been obscured behind politically-motivated hate-speak online, perpetrated by those who would seek to harm the United States from within and outside its borders, and people just eat it up. Thank goodness "The Last Jedi" wasn't running for political office. Imagine the harm that could be done there!