No one needed a scientific study to tell film fans that “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is a polarizing film. Just bring up the film on social media, or amongst your friends, and you’ll find that everyone has an opinion on the film ranging from ‘The Last Jedi’ being the greatest “Star Wars” film ever to proof that Kathleen Kennedy is an “SJW.” However, it’s that controversy that spawned a new study conducted by Morten Bay, a research fellow at USC. And surprisingly, we find that Russia wasn’t just interested in meddling in Presidential Elections.
In his study, titled “Weaponizing The Haters,” Bay wanted to take a look at where this hatred, at least on Twitter, came from. Was it politically motivated? Was it purely based on Rian Johnson’s story? Or maybe, the outrage was blown way out of proportion?
Bay took a sample of tweets that were directly aimed at Johnson and analyzed them. He collected over 1,200 tweets, weeded out the ones that just contained images or gifs, focusing just on the actual critical words. He then looked for multiple tweets from the same account. Long story short, Bay ended up with just about 1,000 tweets to analyze as his sample.
Bay found that 22% of those tweets were negative in nature. However, the real surprise is how many of those negative tweets were from bots and trolls, with a political agenda. “Overall, 50.9% of those tweeting negatively [about the movie] was likely politically motivated or not even human,” he writes.
“A number of these users appear to be Russian trolls,” Bay continues.
As an explanation, he looks at the United States’ current political climate, writing, “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.”
He also states that it’s the political climate, and the “us vs. them” mentality that divided the fandom. “The divisive political discourse of the study period and the months leading up to it, has likely primed these fans with a particular type of political messaging that is in direct conflict with the values presented in ‘The Last Jedi,’” Bay says.
For those interested in breaking down everything Bay concluded, including his methodology, you can give the full paper a read. It’s fascinating.
Ultimately, no he doesn’t say that everyone who hated the film is a Russian bot. But what he does say is the film split the fandom, and was further exacerbated by Russian bots and trolls to capitalize on our political unrest to keep everyone yelling at each other. Both sides can probably agree that’s pretty disgusting, no?