Expectations were high for the movie Star Wars: The Last Jedi last December. If you followed opinions on the internet, you may have been surprised at the vehement anger over Rain Johnson’s episode of the Skywalker saga. We know that Star Wars fans are the harshest Star Wars critics, but this time it felt different. And it was. Morten Bay of the University of Southern California has published his research about the social media backlash against the movie, and found that it was highly influenced by Russian social media users, whether people or bots, and what might have been an exercise in covert influence.
Bay suggests that reputation may not be earned, and instead “finds evidence of deliberate, organized political influence measures disguised as fan arguments,” as he writes in the paper’s abstract. He continues, “The likely objective of these measures is increasing media coverage of the fandom conflict, thereby adding to and further propagating a narrative of widespread discord and dysfunction in American society. Persuading voters of this narrative remains a strategic goal for the U.S. alt-right movement, as well as the Russian Federation.”
The paper analyzes in depth the negative online reaction, which is split into three different camps: those with a political agenda, trolls and what Bay calls “real fantagonists,” which he defines as genuine Star Wars fans disappointed in the movie. His findings are fascinating; “Overall, 50.9% of those tweeting negatively [about the movie] was likely politically motivated or not even human,” he writes, noting that only 21.9% of tweets analyzed about the movie had been negative in the first place.
The study is available online. Scroll down at the link to read the whole thing.