Trials by media have found new judges online.

New commentary published in Feminist Media Studies by Populist Publics co-lead Dr. Sandra Robinson and Carleton University colleague, Dr. Emily Hiltz addresses the role misogyny, anti-feminisms, and disinformation played in convening public opinion in the widely publicized and sensationalized defamation case of Johnny Depp v. Amber Heard using research from the Populist Publics project.

Depp brought forward the defamation suit based on Heard’s published opinion piece in The Washington Post, which he argued tarnished his reputation for allegedly alluding to him as “a public figure that represented domestic abuse.”

When the case went to trial, it was livestreamed online with many social media users weighing in. By extracting archived data from X (then Twitter) on May 26, 2022, the day Heard took the stand in her defense, patterns of misogyny, anti-feminism, and disinformation emerged.

Account holders using the #justiceforjohnny hashtag actively reposted (retweeted) content when Heard took the stand, ensuring the platform’s algorithm would amplify disinformation and misogynist abuse against Heard.

The dismantling of Heard’s reputation thorough violent and disparaging discourse is a common tactic of popular misogyny threaded through coordinated far-right groups active online. Accounts with little to no followings or postings could become influential and highly visible by disparaging Heard and centring harmful speech that gained widespread traction on X (then Twitter).

The networked public mapped around this event shows how disparate far-right accounts mobilize online using disinformation and anti-elitist rhetoric alongside specific and directed content and conduct to target Heard’s reputation. Platformed misogyny of this kind is rooted in the hostile and dangerous method of online visibility through harassment that first surfaced in the 2014 Gamergate harassment campaign and continues today.