New report analyzes Twitter hate directed at Amber Heard
Amber Heard has come under heavy criticism on social media during her defamation lawsuit with Johnny Depp. Now comes a report that, perhaps unsurprisingly, shows that all of this negativity was not organic.
Bot Sentinel, a research company that uses data science and artificial intelligence to detect and track bots, trolls and suspicious accounts on Twitter and elsewhere, released a report on Monday focused on how Heard was treated during the civil trial. He found that the targeting of the ‘Aquaman’ actor was “one of the worst cases of platform manipulation and gross abuse by a group of Twitter accounts.”
Heard’s legal team hired the firm in 2020, but Bot Sentinel says it hasn’t been paid by anyone for Heard’s research it did in June 2022 after a verdict was reached in the court case.
A jury decided after a six-week trial that Heard defamed her ex-husband by saying in a Washington Post Editorial 2018 that she had suffered domestic violence. Depp was awarded $15 million in compensatory and punitive damages, a number that was immediately reduced to $10.35 million to align with the laws of Virginia, where the case was tried. The jury also found that Depp defamed Heard but only awarded him $2 million in damages.
The new report from Bot Sentinel, which zoomed in specifically on Twitter, found that trolls had manipulated conversations and trends “while targeting and abusing women to delete all positive tweets supporting Amber Heard”.
Some 627 Twitter accounts were primarily dedicated to tweeting negatively about Heard and his followers, the company found. And nearly 3,300 accounts tweeted the hashtags #AmberHeardIsAnAbuser, #AmberHeardLsAnAbuser, #AmberHeardIsALiar, and #AmberHeardLsALiar, with misspellings possibly intended to circumvent Twitter filters.
“We immediately observed dozens of newly created accounts spamming negative anti-Amber Heard hashtags,” Bot Sentinel said in a preview of its 17-page report. “Many accounts were replying to tweets with hashtags unrelated to the tweet they were replying to. Some accounts have encouraged others to trend the hashtags, and trolls have repeatedly succeeded.
After reviewing more than 14,000 tweets containing the above hashtags, the company said it determined that 24.4% of accounts sending these tweets were created within the last seven months.
One manipulation technique that was used was “copypasta,” or copying and pasting duplicate content to track Twitter trends and propagate a positive view of Depp and a negative view of Heard, according to the report. One such message read: “People turned on Amber Heard, not because Johnny Depp is a powerful man or a famous actor, but because we watched the trial and saw who was telling the truth and who wasn’t. was not.”
Additionally, the company said it found that women who tweeted in support of Heard were often targeted by trolls who hurled “vulgar and threatening language” at them for weeks after the trial ended.
An academic who supported Heard was targeted by an account containing a photo of the academic’s deceased child, according to the report. The trolls amplified the harassment and ultimately doxxed the academic’s family members, the report said, noting that the specific example was included to show the level of harassment that occurred.
Bot Sentinel said it submitted a list of offending accounts to Twitter before publishing its report. The Times has reached out to Twitter for comment.
“We believe that Twitter has not done enough to mitigate platform manipulation and done very little to stop targeted abuse and harassment,” Bot Sentinel said in its report.
“Twitter essentially left women to fend for themselves with little or no support from the platform. The abuse and targeted harassment continued long after the Depp v. Heard lawsuit ended, and unless Twitter took action, abuse and targeted harassment will continue.
Amongst others reports published by Bot Sentinel since October 2021 was one that investigated a coordinated online hate campaign targeting Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, and another that revealed that more than 96,000 accounts that followed Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in April have were created in about two days.