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Bot Sentinel research shows the extent of Amber Heard Twitter hate after Johnny Depp trial

A new study described the targeted online abuse of Heard and her supporters as “one of the worst cases of platform manipulation” ever seen on Twitter.

Research shows the shocking extent of Amber Heard online hate

The very public court case between Amber Heard and Johnny Depp made headlines around the world and attracted legions of engrossed viewers who followed the seven-week trial as it played out.

Many of those drawn in to the spectacle found themselves siding with either Heard or Depp and the online debate became increasingly heated. The jury found Depp’s argument the more persuasive and Heard was ordered to pay her ex-husband more than $10 million in compensation.

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However she also suffered an astonishing amount of online abuse, much of which came from accounts specifically set up to criticise and attack the star. A new report from Twitter analytics tool Bot Sentinel found 627 accounts that were predominately focused on tweeting negatively about Heard. Nearly a quarter of those accounts were less than seven months old.

What tactics are used by accounts attacking Amber Heard?

The Bot Sentinel report makes clear that the study originated in 2020 when the legal team representing Amber Heard contacted the company after reading a similar report studying online abuse against journalist Lisa Page. Heard’s team did not hire Bot Sentinel to compile the report, but the huge media interest in Heard during the trial spurred them into examining what was actually happening online.

The report cites “rampant abuse and widespread targeted harassment,” describing the coordinated online abuse as “one of the worst cases of platform manipulation and flagrant abuse from a group of Twitter accounts.”

Bot Sentinel found accounts engaging in hashtag spamming, which was used to artificially amplify anti-Heard rhetoric. Accounts replied to unrelated content with anti-Heard hashtags to give “the false impression of overwhelming opposition to Amber Heard.”

Accounts also used a tactic known as ‘copypasta’ to boost the reach of their messaging. This term refers to copying and pasting the same content across a series of accounts, again to create the impression that opposition to Heard was greater than it actually was. These messages often sought to praise Depp, while criticising Heard.

Online trolling spread beyond attacks on Heard

While Heard was undoubtedly the target of the abuse, the messaging frequently spread beyond this to attack those who supported her publically. The report reads: “Twitter trolls would swarm the tweets of women who tweeted positively about Amber Heard and often used vulgar and threatening language.”

Once again, this was a coordinate effort and one designed to amplify their own messaging and overpower dissenting voices. One of the most troubling examples of this came when a prominent academic, not named in the report to protect her privacy, was subject to a shocking campaign of online hate.

The harassment of the academic included countless abusive tweets and the doxing of family members (publishing their personal details online as a thinly veiled threat). One account even used an image of the victim’s deceased child as a profile picture.

The report concludes by calling the campaign of abuse as “one of the worst cases of cyberbullying and cyberstalking” ever studied and calls on Twitter to do more to prevent the abuse and harassment of users, particularly woman, on the platform.