Study: Trolls Hijacked Bad Reviews of The Last Jedi

Throughout 2016, a sophisticated Russian troll army pumped out salvos of fake news, angry tweets, and dopey-ass memes in the hope that disagreements between liberals and conservatives would spill over and bring about the end of Western democracy. So it's only fitting that in 2017, with no elections to speak of, those same trolls took their now-well-oiled, battle-hardened operation and pointed it squarely at another rabid fanbase: Star Wars.

According to Morten Bay, a researcher from the University of Southern California, the seemingly overwhelming backlash against The Last Jedi was in part fueled by "deliberate, organized political influence measures disguised as fan arguments," undertaken with the objective of "propagating a narrative of widespread discord and dysfunction in society." That seems like a leap, but consider that following the movie's release, criticisms of TLJ were hijacked by a variety of grifters and hucksters as evidence that feminism, multiculturalism, homosexuality, and thinking-that-the-Nazis-were-bad-ism have ruined Star Wars, and by extension society.

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Bay looked at every user who fired a negative tweet at the movie's director, Rian Johnson, between December 2017 and July 2018, and placed them -- based on their larger Twitter usage -- into three categories; "real fantagonists" (normal fans who disliked the movie), "troll/sockpuppets/bots," and "political agenda" (those who were tweeting about the film as part of a larger attack on the movie's supposed politics). Of the 206 negatively accounts identified, "real fantagonists" comprised 101 users, while 44 were identified as "bots" and 61 as political agitators. In other words, only half (49.1 percent) of the negative tweets fired at Johnson came from fans with beef about, say, the fairly pointless casino planet subplot, whereas the remaining half (50.9 percent) were shitposting droids or politicos.

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It's important to note that this study isn't all-encompassing -- it only analyzed tweets directed at Johnson, and only focused on text-based tweets, not ones containing memes or GIFs -- and does not negate all criticism of The Last Jedi that plenty of people have raised in good faith. This said, it's an interesting study nonetheless (you can find the full paper here), and shows, if nothing else, how crazily politicized pop culture is these days. As Bay notes, "Since the political and ethical positions presented in the new films are consistent with older films, it is more likely that the polarisation of the Trump era has politicised the fans." (And based on the comments we're expecting to receive for this article, we're inclined to agree.)

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