According to a new report, actress Amber Heard and her supporters just faced one of the worst cases of cyberbullying and cyberstalking by a group of Twitter accounts.
Social media was awash with negative posts about Heard during her defamation trial against her ex-husband, actor Johnny Depp. That included an unusually high number of new Twitter accounts sharing anti-Heard posts, according to Bot Sentinel, a New Jersey research firm that tracks disinformation and targeted attacks on social media.
Bot Sentinel analyzed 14,292 tweets that included anti-Heard hashtags and identified 627 Twitter accounts dedicated to tweeting negatively about Heard and her female supporters. The report said that nearly a quarter (24.4%) of the accounts were created within the past seven months.
The research firm did not try to identify how many of those accounts were “bots”—the automated accounts at the center of Elon Musk’s bid to walk away from his agreement to buy Twitter. Instead, Bot Sentinel focused on toxic behavior and platform manipulation deployed by the army of anti-Heard trolls.
Bot Sentinel’s report said Twitter trolls used hashtag spamming and “copypasta”—a technique that involves copying and pasting duplicative content—to amplify anti-Heard posts, artificially send hashtags trending and suppress pro-Heard content. Bot Sentinel’s report said such tactics gave a false impression of overwhelming public opposition to Heard.
The company also found plenty of verbal abuse and targeted harassment against women who tweeted support of Heard. In one case, someone created a fake Twitter account using a photo of a woman's deceased child to troll her.
Similar campaigns have been waged against Meghan Markle, the actress and American member of the British royal family, as well as Vice President Kamala Harris, said Christopher Bouzy, Bot Sentinel’s founder and CEO. In the Heard case, the goal appeared to be discrediting Heard and silencing her supporters, Bouzy told dot.LA.
“It was extremely aggressive,” he said about the trolling of Heard’s supporters. “If you're on the receiving end, why would you, in the future, tweet something out in support of Amber Heard, because you know ‘I'm gonna get attacked.’”
Bot Sentinel contends the accounts it identified violated multiple Twitter rules and policies, including those dealing with violent threats, harassment, platform manipulation and spam. The company shared its findings with Twitter—, but as of Wednesday the social media giant had neither responded nor removed the violating accounts, Bouzy said.
Twitter did not immediately respond to dot.LA’s request for comment.
BotSentinel’s report included a disclaimer noting that Heard's legal team previously hired the company to determine whether social media activity against Heard was organic. The company published a separate report that found a significant portion of the activity wasn't organic. Neither Heard nor anyone else hired Bot Sentinel to compile and publish the latest report, released Monday.
The anti-Heard campaign illustrates a more pervasive problem with social media, Bouzy said. Similar tactics were employed to spread disinformation about COVID-19 and elections, resulting in deadly consequences. Bouzy believes the online platforms must do more to combat this issue.
“People have to understand that these platforms are being weaponized now,” Bouzy said. “It doesn't just affect celebrities or high-profile figures. It affects everyone, and we have to start taking this stuff seriously.”