At this point, perhaps we should just assume the possibility that nothing is exactly what it seems--even movie backlashes.
In a new paper by a research fellow at the University of Southern California, has concluded that last year's Star Wars installment, The Last Jedi, is the latest phenomenon to join the Brexit vote and the 2016 election in the pantheon of things manipulated by Russian trolls.
Yep. They're even using movies.
Analyzing tweets aimed at the film's director, Rian Johnson, researcher Morton Bay concluded in his paper that more than 50% of the negative content derived from "bots, trolls/sock puppets or political activists using the debate to propagate messages supporting extreme right-wing causes and the discrimination of gender, race or sexuality." And just like Brexit and the election before it, in this controversy, "a number of these users appear to be Russian trolls."
It seems there's no point of disagreement in American society that isn't exploitable--anything to sow discord among our ranks.
Johnson's conclusions are based on analysis of some 2,752 accounts identified by Twitter itself as having ties to Russia's Internet Research Agency, it's state-run "troll farm." It wasn't only Russian trolls that were involved though. Bay found among those attacking Johnson about 60 homegrown accounts as well, which regularly tweeted hardcore right-wing content that was virulently pro-Trump, pro-NRA and anti-social justice--including trolls' favorite go-to weapons: vicious racism and misogyny. Those particular brands of outrage were so intense that Asian-American actress Kelly Marie Tran, who played Rose Tico in the film, was driven off of social media earlier this year.
On social media, people were surprised and dismayed by this news:
These monsters will stop at nothing https://t.co/AH2yEbUUE5— Lance Ulanoff (@Lance Ulanoff)1538443292.0
OK, the title of the academic study that prompted this story is pretty terrifying: "Weaponizing The Haters: The Las… https://t.co/mY8teRMM0L— Julie Hinds (@Julie Hinds)1538493630.0
Brexit ☑️ Trump ☑️ Star Wars ⁉️ It would appear that even Jedi can't escape Russian interference 🤔 h/t @FutureBoy https://t.co/NwqZeGxHsh— Anne-Marie Tomchak (@Anne-Marie Tomchak)1538482813.0
Trolls will use whatever pretext is available to sow discord. Even Star Wars. Research points at half the "critique… https://t.co/zGnmVjVW6A— Osma Ahvenlampi (@Osma Ahvenlampi)1538497695.0
Russia's been fucking with STAR WARS. Is nothing sacred? https://t.co/1vllmVBefS via @mashable— Kara Calavera (@Kara Calavera)1538485011.0
I miss the days when the only trolls I encountered were either from Norse mythology or the occasional journal revie… https://t.co/aVGInT88rd— Dr. Daniel W. Salter (@Dr. Daniel W. Salter)1538478516.0
2018’s hit a brand new peak of weird https://t.co/N8gRVKxSRy— Mike P Williams (@Mike P Williams)1538483692.0
And left wondering what the Russian trolls might be up to next:
While others thought it sounded right on trend for 2018:
@mashable How crazy is 2018 that I read this and just kind of nod my head like, yeah, that makes sense— Ian (@Ian)1538444677.0
And some felt the need to clarify their loyalties:
To be clear, when I first tweeted this I was not acting as an unwitting agent of the Russian government. The Last J… https://t.co/wokFMex8sB— Clay Kraby (@Clay Kraby)1538495287.0
Perhaps most interesting — and instructive — Bay found the trolls were undeniably the minority, comprising less than 22% of all The Last Jedi tweets Johnson received. Almost 90% of the film's audience had a positive view of the film, and it's also the bestselling Blu-Ray of 2018 so far.
Looks like this is just one more social media controversy that shows nothing online can be taken at face value.