Amber Heard subjected to ‘one of the worst cases’ of cyberbullying during Johnny Depp trial, study finds

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Amber Heard and her supporters were subjected to “one of the worst cases of cyberbullying and cyberstalking by a group of Twitter accounts” during the Johnny Depp defamation trial, a new study has found.

The former spouses appeared in court earlier this year regarding an opinion piece Heard wrote for The Washington Post in 2018, in which she discussed domestic abuse and experiencing “the full force of our culture’s wrath for women who speak out”.

Although Heard did not name Depp – to whom she was married between 2015 and 2017 – his legal team argued that readers of the newspaper were likely to assume he was the person responsible for the ordeal she alluded to.

Last month, a jury found that Heard had defamed Depp on all three counts and awarded him $10m (£8m) in compensatory damages and $5m (£4m) in punitive damages.

Heard was awarded $2m (£1.6m) in compensatory damages, but no punitive damages.

During the trial, which was televised, many memes and jokes appeared on social media about Depp and Heard. They largely praised Depp and criticised his ex-wife, while Heard said she felt she was being unfairly criticised.

“Even if you think that I’m lying, you still couldn’t look me in the eye and tell me that you think on social media there’s been a fair representation,” she said in June.

On Monday (18 July), a report was released by Bot Sentinel, a non-partisan website that uses AI to track and fight disinformation and targeted harrassment.

“We believe Twitter users should be able to engage in healthy online discourse without inauthentic accounts, toxic trolls, foreign countries, and organised groups manipulating the conversation,” their website reads.

The software studied more than 14,000 hashtags such as “#AmberHeardIsAnAbuser” and “#AmberHeardIsALiar”.

They noted that intentional misspelling was often used to get multiple hashtags trending at once and “deceive Twitter’s algorithms”.

Among its key findings, the report found that fans who tweeted their support of Heard were “attacked relentlessly” with often “vulgar and threatening language”. 627 Twitter accounts were discovered that “exclusively” tweeted about Heard and her fans.

They also found that 24 per cent of accounts using these negative hashtags about Heard had been created in the last seven months, where they state the average is usually 8.6 per cent.

“What we observed was one of the worst cases of cyberbullying and cyberstalking by a group of Twitter accounts that we’ve ever seen,” the report reads, suggesting that the platform did “very little to stop the abuse and targeted harassment”.

Bot Sentinel explained that they had been contacted by Heard’s team in 2020 to study social media activity about her, but that this was separate from their investigation to the trial, which began last month.