Is Johnny Depp’s Team Using Bots to Weaponize the Internet Against Amber Heard?

in Entertainment, Movies

Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow (left) and Amber Heard (right)

Credit: Disney (left) / Amber Heard Instagram (right)

Johnny Depp is suing his ex-wife, Amber Heard, for $50 million for defamation after she wrote a 2018 op-ed for The Washington Post describing herself as a “public figure representing domestic abuse.”

Heard is countersuing for $100 million, arguing that he “defamed her when his former lawyer released statements saying her allegations of abuse were a hoax.”

amber heard and johnny depp
Credit: FilmDistrict

Since early April, the trial has captured public opinion as Depp testified first and Heard testified earlier this week. The Internet has exploded with people giving their views on the abuse allegations.

Related: Elon Musk May Join Johnny Depp vs. Amber Heard Abuse Trial as Witness

A report from Axios even found that more Americans are clicking articles relating to the Heard v. Depp trial than articles about abortion, a hot topic with the leaked Supreme Court draft opinion repealing Roe v. Wade.

johnny depp as jack sparrow
Credit: Disney

However, some social media users are reporting getting inundated with recommendations to watch videos of the trial, even when they’ve never expressed interest in it.

Robert Evans, an investigative journalist and podcast host who goes by @IwriteOK on Twitter, wrote:

there is something unsettling going on with the Depp / Heard trial that has not been fully sussed out. I have never in my life online been so relentlessly pushed to watch videos on a subject, despite never having clicked on a single one.

the push to get people to watch videos specifically attacking Heard and pumping up Depp’s “hilarious” responses is not quite like anything else I’ve seen online

Many of his followers agreed, reporting they too were constantly recommended videos and news stories about the legal conflict between Depp and Heard.

amber heard
Credit: Amber Heard Instagram

Alexa O’Brien, an investigative analyst and writer focused on intelligence, has been closely following the Depp and Heard trial’s presence on social media. She wrote on Twitter:

There is some serious bot activity happening around this depp/heard trial— at the level of subversive propaganda— insane swarms— propagation of false accounts of trial— haven’t seen anything like this before.

There’s precedent for these allegations, starting during the 2020 trial in the United Kingdom in which Depp sued The Sun for referring to him as a “Wife Beater.” (Depp lost this suit and appeals were denied.)

Mads Mikkelsen as Gellert Gindelwald
Credit: Warner Bros.

After the trial, Depp was asked to resign from Warner Brothers’ Fantastic Beasts franchise. Heard alleges Depp retaliated by trying to get her fired from Aquaman (2022).

According to Vice, both Ms. Heard and Mr. Depp accused each other of insidiously swaying public opinion. From Vice

At the time, Depp and Heard accused each other of engaging in sophisticated PR campaigns, with Heard alleging that Depp relied on bots and insidious social media accounts to slander her. 

amber heard as mera in aquaman
Credit: Warner Bros.

During the High Court trial, The Guardian interviewed Mark Stephens, a lawyer who, while not involved in the case, spoke on the legal proceedings on social media. He reported receiving immediate online harassment if he posted anything objective about the trial. From The Guardian

“We have seen bots go to war before, and you learn to have doubts when you see that comments supporting Depp are popping up in real time, just as evidence is being produced in court,” said Stephens. “I have seen campaigns like it on a smaller scale between drug companies, and you can spot them because the same slightly inappropriate or clumsy language is used.”

amber heard (left) and johnny depp (right) in formalwear on bighorn red carpet
Credit: ABC

Stephens examined the accounts and claimed that there were generally three types of accounts attacking any tweets about the trial. From The Guardian:

[Stephens] found some were generated by new accounts, he claims, while others had been set up to comment on this single issue in February or March. A third set of accounts had been dormant for a long period and had previously only commented on one other, unrelated issue.

“It does make you wonder,” said Stephens, who reported his findings to Twitter. “I would say that of about 100 accounts I alerted them to, 50 or 60 are now no longer there.”

amber heard and johnny depp
Credit: FilmDistrict

More recently, Rolling Stone attempted to uncover if Heard and Depp’s biggest and loudest online supporters were legitimate. The magazine collaborated with Cyabra, “a Tel Aviv-based startup that analyzes online conversations and spots disinformation.” Cyabra claimed that only 5% of accounts supporting Depp appeared to be bots, while the majority of bot activity around Heard appeared to be companies trying to capitalize on the trial’s publicity to advertise their products.

Has your social media been flooded with information about the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard defamation suit? Let us know in the comments. 

 

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