Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Russian Troublemaking in Star Wars Fandom

This amused me:
A recent study by Morten Bay, a University of Southern California digital media researcher, revealed that over 50 percent of the venom directed on Twitter at Rian Johnson, director of “The Last Jedi,” came from the same sources as Russian election meddling.

Using the analytical tools that other technologists deployed to uncover Russian influence during the 2016 election, Mr. Bay found that “bots, trolls/sock puppets or political activists” were using the “Star Wars” debate “to propagate political messages supporting extreme right-wing causes and the discrimination of gender, race or sexuality” and that “a number of these users appear to be Russian trolls.” So it seems that it was political operatives, not fans, who were denigrating the movie and fomenting some of the virulent racism and misogyny against its cast.

Using “Star Wars” as the vehicle was a canny move by the trolls. Fans, like the American electorate, are polarized and angry. Online and in real life, they scream at one another about how Luke Skywalker would really behave decades after finding out that his dad was Darth Vader.
It also makes me wonder: suppose making Americans hate each other really is a goal of Russian policy. Would stirring up trouble among Star Wars fans be a good strategy? Or are we better than that at separating entertainment from politics? Personally I suspect it would be a powerful tactic.

On the other hand, is dividing Americans really useful for Putin? In the short term it may have helped a little bit to elect Trump, but I would worry that in the longer term it might create incentives for a future leader to lash out at Russia to cement his or her position.

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