New York Times contributing editor Annalee Newitz recently published an opinion piece (archive.is link) on the problems facing Star Wars that is now exploding on social media today over some (completely false) inflammatory accusations she makes about Star Wars fans and their criticism of the new trilogy. The findings Newitz claims have been discovered is restarting yet another wave of left wing social media users accusing Russian bots/trolls for all the criticism of the new Star Wars trilogy and not because it is a showcase of how terrible a movie is when it is written by a left wing corporate committee that ignores thirty plus years of Star Wars material created since the original trilogy.
Gamergate social justice warrior veteran Brianna Wu found the accusation and broadcast it to her followers a few hours ago:
Their mission is to divide us. Movies, games, politics, doesn’t matter – and we are easy targets. https://t.co/nzZ2vAduhH
— Brianna Wu (@BriannaWu) December 26, 2019
Annalee Newitz tries to tie the vitriol directed against the absolutely terrible director of the Last Jedi, Rian Johnson, into the broader conflict between Americans over electoral politics of Democrats and Republican issues.
I’m not the only one who has noticed this obvious parallel to American electoral politics. JJ Abrams, who directed “The Phantom Menace” and “The Rise of Skywalker,” noted in a recent interview that the vicious polarization within Star Wars fandom is not a phenomenon restricted to “Star Wars.” As he put it, “This is about everything.”
Newitz then falsely claims that over 50% of the negative attacks against the director came from Russian bots/trolls/right wing agitators:
And 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.
If Newitz had actually read the research study instead of lying about it to the poorly informed New York Times readership, she would have had a very different data point to quote to her readership. The research study states:
To ascertain how the collected tweets were attitudinally constituted, a manual sentiment analysis was performed, which is described below. As one of the main objectives was to study the political leanings of Star Wars fans engaging with Rian Johnson (rather than, say, how frequently those fans tweet), series of several tweets expressing the same sentiment from the same account was reduced to one. This reduced the number of tweets under analysis to 967 and simultaneously created the foundation for the account analysis to follow, since each user was now represented by one tweet.
The researcher then tries to tie the negative reviews to trolls, sock puppets, and bots and then into the larger issue of Russian interference in Western society:
Among the 967 tweets analyzed, 206 expressed a negative sentiment towards the film and its director, which is 21.9 percent or a little more than one in five fans. This number includes all negative tweets analyzed, i.e., also those who came from the 44 accounts identified as bots, sock puppet accounts and trolls. It also includes 61 users who showed clear political agendas in their tweets against the film. Thus, the number of fans whose tweets are purely motivated by a negative stance towards the film is 101 or 10,5 percent. Overall, 50.9 percent of those tweeting negatively was likely politically motivated or not even human.
Taking a break from Newitz for a second, let’s analyze what this researcher in the study is saying. Morten Bay states that anyone who belongs to these accounts were no different than the Russian bots he identified:
- Political accounts that also comment on cultural pieces
- Those who refuse to use their real names on the internet
- Those who use celebrity spoof names or names that have random numbers in them
What did the Research Actually Show?
The researcher only found 11 actual bots in the study of 967 users, or about 1.1% of the total.
If you include suspected trolls (about 7 or 16, depending on the criteria the researcher used), it jumps to 1.8% or 2.7% of the total respectively.
This was not even close to the “over 50%” figure quoted by Newitz and then parroted by Wu and the other social justice warriors on social media so I dub this completely: