Russian hackers reportedly targeted the release of Disney's "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" in 2017 to politicize the franchise and drum up discontent.
A new academic paper released this week from researcher Mort Bay at the University of Southern California found evidence online of "deliberate, organized political influence measures disguised as fan arguments."
Russian operators have exploited social media accounts to push political agendas, most notably during the 2016 presidential election, Bay wrote.
He found a number of Russian trolls disguised as fan accounts participating in online debates about the movie.
Online discussions comprised of three different audiences, according to Bay. There were trolls, those trying to stir up controversy because of a political agenda and genuine "Star Wars" fans.
"Overall, 50.9 percent of those tweeting negatively [about the movie] was likely politically motivated or not even human," he writes, noting that only 21.9 percent of tweets analyzed about the movie had been negative in the first place.
Bay wrote that the likely goal of the online trolls was to increase media coverage of the fandom's conflict, "thereby adding to and further propagating a narrative of widespread discord and dysfunction in American society," Bay wrote.
"Persuading voters of this narrative remains a strategic goal for the U.S. alt-right movement, as well as the Russian Federation," he added.
The online "Star Wars" fandom is becoming more polarized in the Trump era, Bay wrote.
Bay noted that specific criticism of the films director, Rian Johnson, was largely political.
Of those who addressed Johnson on Twitter about their disslike for the movie, Bay found that more than half were "bots, trolls/sock puppets or political activists using the debate to propagate political messages supporting extreme right-wing causes and the discrimination of gender, race or sexuality."
Johnson took to Twitter on Monday to share Bay's research, saying it was "consistent" with his experience online.
"And just to be totally clear: this is not about fans liking or not liking the movie - I've had tons of great talks with great fans online and off who liked and disliked stuff, that's what fandom is all about," Johnson wrote. "This is specifically about a virulent strain of online harassment."
And just to be totally clear: this is not about fans liking or not liking the movie - I've had tons of great talks with great fans online and off who liked and disliked stuff, that's what fandom is all about. This is specifically about a virulent strain of online harassment.- Rian Johnson (@rianjohnson) October 2, 2018