Russian trolls likely behind negative tweets about 'Last Jedi': study
This image released by Lucasfilm shows Daisy Ridley as Rey in "Star Wars: The Last Jedi," in theaters on Dec. 15. (Lucasfilm via AP)
Published Tuesday, October 2, 2018 2:01PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, October 3, 2018 1:24PM EDT
Attempts to inflame tensions by mass-posting controversial opinions to Twitter has reached a galaxy far, far away from the political arena, according to new research.
A new study has found that a sizable number of negative tweets about “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” sent to the film’s director were not coming from a place of honest criticism.
Study author Morten Bay analyzed 967 Twitter users who directed tweets at director Rian Johnson in the seven months following the movie’s release.
He was able to classify 206 of the 967 users’ messages as clearly negative. Fewer than half of those were people who appeared to dislike the movie and had no ulterior motive in contacting Johnson.
The remainder, he said, belonged to a mix of bots, trolls and accounts whose main purpose on Twitter was to advance political agendas.
“People who are just angry … are now starting to take it out in forums where we wouldn’t normally see it,” Bay told CTVNews.ca in an interview Tuesday.
Bay is a self-described “Star Wars” fan who has studied Russian use of social media to disrupt elections in the U.S. He is part of the Center for the Digital Future at the University of Southern California.
He classified 33 of the accounts as trolls, based on their accounts being created or revived around the time the movie was released and his observations of their Twitter use. Some of them had patterns of activity that matched accounts previously identified as Russian trolls.
“There are 16 accounts in there that look a lot like the trolls that were found by Twitter,” Bay said, adding that several of those accounts have been suspended from Twitter since he began his research.
Another 11 accounts appear to be bots tweeted pre-programmed messages, making it difficult to assess their origin.
The remaining 61 accounts likely belong to actual people who primarily use Twitter to offer their opinions on social and political issues, Bay found.
Five of the 105 users who directed negative tweets to Johnson clearly identified as female.
Bay said he was not surprised to come across Russian trolls tweeting negative opinions of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” given the extent of Russian attempts to spread influence through social media.
More surprising, he said, were the common factors uniting some of the other people sending antagonistic messages to the film’s director.
“People who are NRA supporters, people who are Trump supporters, people who are connected to the alt-right … there’s all these very disparate kinds of political movement, mostly on the right, who were being very political about the way they went to this discussion about the film,” he said.
Similar patterns of bot and troll behaviour were not found among more positive tweets directed toward Johnson.
Bay’s study will be published in the journal First Monday.