If you didn’t like The Last Jedi, you’re probably a political troll or a Russian bot. Or at least that’s what a new academic paper published by researcher Morten Bay asserts. The study, titled “Weaponizing the Haters: The Last Jedi and the Strategic Politicization of Pop Culture Through Social Media Manipulation,” evaluates the online criticism director Rian Johnson and Episode VIII of the Star Wars saga received.
Per the study, the film didn’t face huge backlash out of a genuinely overwhelming hatred of the film. Instead, it was orchestrated by trolls aimed at furthering political antipathy on social media. Sound familiar? The USC fellow found 50 percent of negative Twitter posts came from “bots, trolls/sockpuppets, or political activists using the debate to propagate political messages supporting extreme rightwing causes and the discrimination of gender, race or sexuality. A number of these users appear to be Russian trolls.”
The hate aimed at The Last Jedi, its cast, and director was evident from the beginning, but was mistakenly characterized as mainly the work of misogynist alt-rights angry about Daisy Ridley’s role and the overall presence of women and people of color. The study shows trolls/bots had a huge hand in the backlash as well. Of the negative posts, Bay found 50.9 percent were “likely politically motivated or not even human,” with 5 percent of posts by bots, 16 percent by trolls, and close to 30 percent by users with political agendas.
“The study finds evidence of deliberate, organised political influence measures disguised as fan arguments,” 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.”
Of course, there are likely plenty of fans who didn't like The Last Jedi, but this provides greater context to why the film faced so much destructive and abusive criticism. Johnson shared the study on Twitter, using it to bolster his own feelings about the backlash writing, “what the top-line describes is consistent with my experience online.”