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Anti‑Amber Heard Campaign One of the Worst Instances of Cyberbullying: Report

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Jul 20, 2022

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Image Credit: Getty Images

More than a month after the infamous Depp v. Heard verdict, trending hashtags on Twitter continue to target Amber Heard and villainize anyone who comments on the verdict at all. A new report by Bot Sentinel reveals a pattern of online misogyny and harassment that confirms much of what we’ve suspected for a while: that the sustained campaign against Heard — and now, Evan Rachel Wood and others — is among the worst instances of cyberbullying and harassment on Twitter.

The target of the trolls’ ire wasn’t just limited to Heard — which is what makes the finding particularly worrisome. The report tells a sordid story of just to what extent the particular trial played a part in furthering misogyny and violence against many women — all in the name of fandom. In other words, the trial provided a cover for many to enact gender-based harassment online in targeted ways.

Among the key findings of the analysis was that the accounts that targeted Heard and other Twitter users weighing in in her favor openly bragged about manipulating algorithms to make their hashtags trend, providing the impression that the public opinion against Heard and in favor of Depp was much stronger than it was.

“Hashtag manipulation tactics gave the false impression of overwhelming opposition to Amber Heard,” the report stated. Then, the trends also tended to indulge in personal attacks against Heard to paint her as a liar, while simultaneously holding Depp us as an “intelligent” truth-teller.


Related on The Swaddle:

The Johnny Depp‑Amber Heard Trial Bolstered Meme Pages as the New Mass Media


Most concerning, however, was the way it showed how people besides Heard were affected by the relentless trolling. “We observed the trolls abusing and harassing Amber Heard and multiple other women and swarming the tweets of their victims. Offensive tweets, misogyny, doxxing, and death threats were rampant. The same group of toxic trolls also harassed and abused women who tweeted positively about Amber Heard,” the report noted.

In one instance, fake supporters used photos of an individual’s deceased child to harass them for supporting Amber Heard, and even went on to threaten the rest of their family.

The phenomenon points to how targeted social media campaigning is increasingly influencing real-life events — and how platforms like Twitter often give inordinate power to toxic fan entitlement. Recent revelations about the controversy behind the infamous ‘Synder cut’ of the Justice League film by Zack Snyder showed how bot accounts drove much of the demand for the re-release.

“…nuance is sacrificed in service of byte-sized content mediated to the public through social media accounts — with social media algorithms incentivizing quick judgments with little context by a de facto jury that is bound by neither journalistic nor legal standards of ethics,” The Swaddle noted earlier this year.

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Written By Rohitha Naraharisetty

Rohitha Naraharisetty is an Associate Editor at The Swaddle. Previously, she was a freelance writer and independent researcher working in the intersection of gender, social movements, and international relations. She can be found on Instagram at @rohitha_97 or on Twitter at @romimacaronii.

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