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‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ Backlash: Academic Study Reveals 50% of Online Hate Caused by Russian Trolls or Non-Humans

Ac academic study published by researcher Morten Bay investigates the real sources behind the hatred over "The Last Jedi."

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi”

Disney/Lucasfilm

Rian Johnson has seen more than his fair share of online harassment over “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” but a new academic study finds the backlash to his film should be taken with a grain of salt. The study was published by researcher Morten Bay under the title “Weaponizing the Haters: ‘The Last Jedi’ and the Strategic Politicization of Pop Culture through Social Media Manipulation.” Bay investigated the online backlash to Johnson and “The Last Jedi” that began after the film’s December 2017 release.

According to “Weaponizing the Haters,” much of the online fan arguments over the film are actually “deliberate, organized political influence measures” in disguise. Bay writes, “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.”

Bay found that 50.9% of people tweeting negatively about “The Last Jedi” were “politically motivated or not even human,” with a number of these users appearing to be Russian trolls. The overall backlash against the film wasn’t even that great, with only 21.9% of tweets analyzed about the movie being negative in the first place.

“[S]ince the political and ethical positions presented in the new films are consistent with older films, it is more likely that the polarization of the Trump era has politicized the fans,” Bay writes of the backlash. “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.'”

Rian Johnson shared the study to his nearly 1 million Twitter followers. “A bit of Morten’s research came out awhile ago and made some headlines,” the director said. “Looking forward to reading it.” Johnson said the statistic that 50% of the backlash was politically motivated was “consistent with [his] experience online.”

Click here to read “Weaponizing the Haters” in its entirety.

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