Star Wars: The Last Jedi was slammed by the dark side of the web before it was even released, by right wing extremists and trolls – from RUSSIA.
Analysis of the 1,273 tweets director Rian Johnson received seven months from the film’s released last December found all positive and neutral comments were genuine.
Excluding repeat comments, just over a fifth were negative – 206 of 967 – with more than half of those not made up of Russian online robots and right-wing extremists.
These bots and extremists are more often blamed for trying to influence elections than matters a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
Study author Dr Morten Bay, of the University of Southern California – which boasts Star Wars creator George Lucas as its alumni, said the fake tweets pushed “a narrative of widespread discord and dysfunction” in the West.
He said: “Overall, 50.9 per cent of those tweeting negatively was likely politically motivated or not even human.
“In the collected data, I have discovered political agitation for right-wing values using The Last Jedi as a placeholder for left-wing positions.
“It appears that political activists have used bots and sock puppet accounts to troll left-wing fans, and there is even evidence that Russian influence operators have inserted themselves into the debate to exploit and exacerbate the conflict.
“Whether the criticism comes from a Russian troll/bot or from a fan who feels increasingly distant from the values presented in the new Star Wars films, the objective of their actions is a political one.
“Russian trolls weaponize Star Wars criticism as an instrument of information warfare with the purpose of pushing for political change, while it is weaponized by right-wing fans to forward a conservative agenda and for some it is a pushback against what they perceive as a feminist/social justice onslaught.
“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 added: “I identified 33 of the 206 negative accounts as trolls and or sock puppets.
“Besides meeting a majority of the detection criteria mentioned in the methods section, these accounts would mostly tweet or retweet right-wing messages alongside their attacks on Rian Johnson and The Last Jedi.
“All of these troll/sock puppet accounts were created – or became active after being dormant for months or years – during the study period, most of them around the time when The Last Jedi opened in theatres and the first negative fan reactions began being posted to Twitter.
“No similar accounts were found on the positive or neutral side, where most accounts signalled that they belonged to an identifiable human being that had a high likelihood of being real.
“There were also no bots found among the accounts posting positive/neutral tweets.”
By Ben Gelblum and Berny Torre