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How Russian trolls brought ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ debate to the Dark Side

This image released by Lucasfilm shows Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker in "Star Wars: The Last Jedi." (John Wilson/Lucasfilm via AP)

(NEW YORK) — The online debate over Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi was even more complex than we thought.

According to a new academic paper by USC researcher Dr. Morten Bay, Russian trolls may have been jumping in on the Twitter conversations about the film, and making them political.

The comments about The Last Jedi were “kind of divided between people from the U.S. who had some kind of local, I would say, a sort of very American-based political view,” Bay tells ABC Radio’s Start Here podcast. “And then there were some other people that seemed a little more disconnected, that were just ranting against the movie for some very odd reason.”

When he took a closer look at those tweets, he started to see similarities between them and those generated by Russian troll farms — and according to Morten, it’s been happening for a while.  It seems Russian intelligence isn’t just looking to influence elections the U.S.: It wants to exploit any dividing lines it can, to sow general discord.

“What we’re seeing now is that they’re creeping more into discussions on pop culture,” he says. “…So when they see a rift among people, for instance what happened in the Star Wars case, well, what they will do is they’ll go in and they’ll sort of fan the flame.”

According to Bay’s findings, overall, around 50% of criticism of the movie was politically motivated – some of it likely from Russia. He noted that only 21.9% of tweets analyzed about the movie had been negative in the first place.

So is this vindication for the movie’s much-maligned director, Rian Johnson? In response to a tweet announcing the release of the study, Johnson wrote, “Looking forward to reading it, but what the top-line describes is consistent with my experience online.”

ABC News and Lucasfilm are both part of parent company Disney.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.



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