A new report found that pro-Depp trolls are still harassing the actress and her supporters online.
The Amber Heard versus Johnny Depp defamation case might have ended in June, with the courts largely siding with Depp, but the fraught saga is being kept alive online. The roughly six-week trial occupied most media coverage this past spring as the two actors aired every manner of dirty laundry in a televised trial. From absurd incidents like defecation in a bed and manic writings in blood on a wall, to more disheartening revelations like vile text messages threatening violence and very serious allegations of sexual and physical abuse, the toxicity of the couple’s marriage was laid bare for all to see. And while the jury made its verdict, the court of public opinion has been more complicated. Twitter trolls have taken to the platform since day one to post disturbing anti-Heard vitriol. But even since the trial’s emotional end, it seems online harassers have still made it a priority to target Heard and her supporters a priority.
Amber Heard’s side of the story is a classic Me Too case, which typically instills a certain level of reverence for victimhood. But Heard has been unfortunately spared any inherent decorum. Depp’s legal team did a successful job of painting the actress as a fame-hungry ex-wife who used the legal process to garner attention and money from Depp. As a result of the intense smear campaign, Depp stans made the hashtags #AmberHeardIsALiar and #AmberHeardIsAnAbuser go viral. Now, as reported by Variety, certain accounts have continued those hashtags to troll anyone who has expressed support for Heard.
A firm called Bot Sentinel combed through 14,292 tweets that used the viral hashtags, and reported that 24% of the accounts that posted them were created within the past seven months. Bot Sentinel said that “abusive trolls who identified as Johnny Depp supporters had subjected women to verbal abuse and targeted harassment.” It was also found that the hashtags were sometimes altered with a typo to read as #AmberHeardLsALiar and #AmberHeardLsAnAbuser, as a way to circumvent the platform’s algorithms. In one case, Bot Sentinel reported that the online harassers “doxxed a woman’s family and created a fake Twitter account using a photo of the woman’s deceased child to troll her.”
The Bot Sentinel report states in a disclaimer that Heard’s legal team hired them “to determine whether the social media activity against Ms. Heard was organic or if there was some other explanation.” They found at the time that “a significant portion of the activity wasn’t organic.” However, when Monday’s report was released, the firm clarified, “Neither Amber Heard nor anyone from her team hired Bot Sentinel to review the activity. No one hired Bot Sentinel to compile and publish this report.” Bot Sentinel bills itself as a company dedicated to exposing the dark underbelly of the web. Their website explains, “Twitter users should be able to engage in healthy online discourse without inauthentic accounts, toxic trolls, foreign countries, and organized groups manipulating the conversation.”
In her first interview after the trial ended in June, Heard spoke about the online hate to the Today Show’s Savanah Guthrie. “I don't take it personally,” she said. “... But even somebody who is sure I'm deserving of all this hate and vitriol, 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. You cannot tell me that you think that this has been fair.” The online hate was unsettling enough during the trial, but it’s shocking that almost two months after the verdict was passed down, trolls are still harassing Heard and her supporters.
It’s unclear how much influence the hate had in the actual case, but Heard’s recent motion for a mistrial over an issue with a juror was denied by a judge, who found no reason to overturn the verdict. Heard was found liable for defaming Depp in her 2018 op-ed in the Washington Post which did not mention him by name, but alluded to abuse in a past relationship. Depp was awarded $10 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages, the latter of which was reduced to $350,000 under the statutory damages cap. Conversely, Depp was found liable for a defamatory statement made by his lawyer about Heard, and ordered to pay Heard $2 million.