Why won't trolls stop spoiling 'Star Wars?

When a Twitter notification announced a new direct message last week, Paige Belmont clicked through with mild curiosity. That quickly turned to dawning horror, then blind rage.

Belmont, 31, of Downingtown, who has a penchant for all things Star Wars — her name, on Twitter, is Darth Paige found her inbox filled with spoilers for the new film, The Last Jedi, which was released Friday.

“It wasn’t even that I saw it by accident,” she said. “Someone intentionally wanted to ruin it for me.”

Over the last few days, social media has become a minefield for those who aspire to see the film but couldn’t make it on opening weekend. Internet trolls are tucking spoilers into memes and posting them on Facebook groups, they’re embedding them in the comments sections of newspaper websites (including this one), and they’re throwing them into unrelated Reddit threads faster than moderators can weed them out.

“When The Sixth Sense came out, people, weeks and weeks in, could go to the theater and not know that there was a twist at the end, because people respected it,” Belmont said. “Something about social media, people want to troll.”

Normally, Belmont’s defense is to attend a midnight showing on opening day, but an illness kept her home this year. And a strategy many of her friends deployed — going dark on Facebook and Twitter until they could see the movie themselves — wasn’t an option, since her day job is as a social-media marketer.

One Philly Facebook user took a different approach: preemptively threatening to sign up any spoiler posters for pornographic websites.

That approach, however novel, is hardly a universal fix for the problem of internet trolling in general, or Star Wars spoilers in particular.

Belmont’s troll, an unknown user who has since blocked her on Twitter, said he did it because “it’s just fun to make people upset.”

In lieu of coming after him with a light saber, she sent him a link to an article from Psychology Today arguing that trolls are sociopaths.

Camera icon Courtesy of Paige Belmont
Paige Belmont (left) and Caitlin McLean dressed up in costume for opening night of “The Force Awakens.” Belmont said attending opening night is the safest way  to avoid spoilers.

In several studies, researchers have concluded that trolls are “everyday sadists,” with tendencies toward psychopathy and Machiavellianism. They’ve also found that people who enjoy trolling have below-average levels of empathy.

Some have even posited that trolling is addictive behavior, and that annoying, angering, and upsetting others brings trolls a rush that only causes them to crave more.

One meme, with a major Star Wars spoiler, was posted in the Facebook group West Willy. It was removed eventually, but not quickly enough for some. Afterward, Geena Cain, one of the moderators, posted a response:

“I know that being terrible unforgivable awful f—ing people is kinda some of y’all’s brand,” she wrote.

“But I will raze the ground if you spoil star wars in this group for real. You will be banhammered so hard and so righteously that you will be banned from groups that have yet to form. This is your one warning. Keep your friends in check. I’m serious. Be decent for once in your lives.”

That, apparently, is a lot to ask.

Colin Deckert, 23, of Marlton, spends hours each day moderating a subReddit called Iamverysmart — a place to poke fun at overly pretentious content.

“Within a couple hours after the movie came out, they got me,” said Deckert, whose username is Lockski. Redditors were direct-messaging spoilers to him and other moderators, and posting them as comments in unrelated threads. He removed those comments as fast as he could and urged users to report any spoilers they saw, but with 500,000 users  in the group, it’s an uphill battle.

“We don’t get movie spoiler comments too often. It’s only with very big and very hyped movies that it happens,” he said. “Star Wars is one of the most hyped movies of the past decade.”

Deckert said he’ll still go see the film, Episode Eight of the franchise; he’s waiting for his mom to watch Episode Seven first, so they can attend together.

While often those who post such memes face few consequences, many social media users say they’re unfriending those who post giveaways. Other backlash has been more extensive. One Facebook user said the response she received included death threats. “Frankly, I’m stunned. Over a movie. I am glad the people deleted me and I got rid of a few,” she wrote. “Time to grow up people. A joke is a joke.”

Another Facebook page, called Dysfunctional Veterans, posted a spoiler meme and later added this not-quite-contrite follow-up: “We lost over 400 likes and our review rating got knocked down a point. … Was also accused of several high crimes. lol. So I hereby promise not to post something like that again.”

Mike Rivers, 51, who runs the Dysfunctional Veterans page, said the page’s brand of dark humor helps him sell merchandise that funds a homeless shelter he runs in Gilsom, N.H., for veterans dealing with addiction. “Our main purpose is that screwed-up sense of humor that we had in the military. That’s what gets us in trouble.”

He posted the meme simply because he thought it was funny— and figured any true Star Wars fans already had seen the film on opening day or read the book. “My intention wasn’t to hurt anyone’s feelings.”

Paul Miller, 35, of Mayfair, said people like that just don’t get it: It’s really not funny.

He came across a spoiler meme in a Facebook group, and his heart sunk.

“You get halfway through and it says, ‘By the way, so and so die at the end of the movie.'”

He went to see the film the next day anyway. “You have the utmost hope that it’s not accurate, because you know you can’t believe anything online. But it definitely was spoiled a bit.”

In this case, he said, “The trolls won.”

On the plus side: Philly Twitter users got in a few good-natured Star Wars spoiler jokes along the way.