KUALA LUMPUR, July 21 — Hollywood actress Amber Heard’s defamation trial with ex-husband, Johnny Depp last June garnered massive attention both online and offline.
Social media was abuzz with people sharing their opinions on the trial.
However, a newly-published report has found that not all the negative posts were actually organic.
The report was done by Bot Sentinel, a research firm that uses data science and artificial intelligence to detect and track trolls, bots, and suspect accounts across social media platforms.
According to the report, although Heard’s team had hired them in 2020, the firm pointed out that the 2022 report that they did after her defamation trial wasn’t paid by anyone.
To recap Heard’s defamation trial, a jury decided after a six-week trial that Heard defamed Depp through a 2018 Washington Post op-ed where she claimed to have endured domestic abuse.
Depp was awarded US$15 million (RM66.8 million) in compensatory and punitive damages, which was then reduced to US$10.35 million (RM46 million).
The jury also found that Depp defamed the Aquaman actress and awarded her US$2 million (RM8.9 million) in damages.
Bot Sentinel on Monday released a report that specified how Heard was treated on Twitter during her defamation trial.
In its report, the firm described the targeting of Heard as "one of the worst cases of platform manipulation and flagrant abuse from a group of Twitter accounts".
They found that online trolls have been manipulating conversations and trends while also targeting and abusing women in order to suppress positive tweets showing support towards Amber Heard.
"We immediately observed dozens of newly-created accounts spamming negative anti-Amber Heard hashtags.
"Many accounts were replying to tweets with hashtags unrelated to the tweet they were responding to.
"Some accounts encouraged others to get the hashtags trending, and the trolls were successful on multiple occasions,” the firm said in the report.
The Methods Used
Bot Sentinel also managed to identify 14,292 tweets and 627 Twitter accounts which focus primarily on negatively tweeting about Heard and her female supporters.
Meanwhile, 3,288 accounts were seen tweeting hashtags such as #AmberHeardLsAnAbuser, #AmberHeardIsALiar and they’ve found out that 19 per cent of those accounts were dedicated to spamming the hashtags.
Accounts spammed #AmberHeardLsAnAbuser and #AmberHeardLsALiar with the letter "I" purposely replaced with the letter "L" to deceive Twitter's algorithms in order to manipulate hashtag trends.
"Approximately 24.4 per cent of the Twitter accounts tweeting negative Amber Heard hashtags were created within the past seven months.
"The number of new accounts tweeting about Amber Heard was significantly higher than accounts tweeting about other topics,” the firm said in its 17-page report.
Another method being used by these trolls and bots includes copypasta (copying and pasting duplicative content) as a means to amplify messaging and Twitter trends.
The goal of the tactic is to paint Heard in a bad light by calling her a liar while Depp is the opposite.
Aside from that, Bot Sentinel added that trolls would tend to brag about their hashtags being on the trending list while also encouraging others to spam the anti-Amber Heard hashtags.
Screenshot of the 'Hashtag spammings' and 'Copypasta' done by trolls during Amber Heard's defamation trial in June which was shared in the report. — Screenshot from botsentinel.com
Due to these online trolls, Amber Heard and women who showed their support for Heard via Twitter were attacked relentlessly.
Women who tweeted positive things about Heard would get swarmed by trolls who would often use vulgar and threatening language.
To make matters worse, the harassment didn’t stop at vulgar and threatening language. Bot Sentinel also disclosed that in one case, someone had created a fake account using the image of a deceased child of a prominent academic.
"The troll used the fake account to taunt and torment the person because she tweeted in support of Amber Heard.
"Trolls escalated their harassment and doxed the academic's family members.
"This criminal activity led to the target fearing for the safety of her family and herself,” Bot Sentinel said in the report.
Bot Sentinel said it submitted a list of the offending accounts to Twitter before publishing its report.
"What we observed was one of the worst cases of cyberbullying and cyberstalking by a group of Twitter accounts that we've ever seen.
"It's our opinion Twitter didn't do enough to mitigate the platform manipulation and did very little to stop the abuse and targeted harassment.
"Twitter essentially left the women to fend for themselves with little to no support from the platform,” Bot Sentinel said, adding that the harassment will continue even after the trial unless Twitter takes action.
Bot Sentinel was founded in 2018 to fight disinformation and targeted harassment online.
One of their recent studies was on Coordinated Hate Campaign Targeting Harry and Meghan, Duke and Duchess of Sussex.