Amber Heard's Vicious Online Trolls Are Coming for Angelina Jolie Now

“It's an emboldenment across the board of misogyny—and hate across the board towards women—that people are more comfortable being open with.”
Angelina Jolie, Amber Heard, and Evan Rachel Wood have all faced significant backlash online. (Photos by Alex Wong / Getty Images, JIM WATSON / POOL / AFP via Getty Images, and Rodin Eckenroth / Getty Images for The Recording Academy)

Last week, shortly after Angelina Jolie filed a counterclaim against her former spouse Brad Pitt that included detailed allegations of abuse that she says Pitt inflicted on her and their children, some corners of the internet exploded with hate against one of the actors—but not the one you might think.


Jolie, the recipient of the alleged violence from Pitt, was vilified online almost instantly.

As the allegations surfaced, many people online jumped to Pitt’s defense. One YouTuber claimed Jolie wants to “destroy” Pitt and accused her of waging a “smear campaign” against him. 

“She is angry and she is out for blood,” another Twitter user said. 

The counterclaim itself, filed in Los Angeles, alleges serious violence from Pitt: “Pitt grabbed Jolie by the head and shook her, and then grabbed her shoulders and shook her again before pushing her into the bathroom wall,” the counterclaim states. It also alleges that Pitt “struck” one child and “choked” another, before pouring alcohol on the family.

But Jolie getting hate, instead of Pitt, follows an eerily familiar pattern that played out repeatedly during the Amber Heard and Johnny Depp trial, where each accused the other of defamation and abuse. Throughout the proceedings, social media heaped hate on Heard—with users calling her a “liar,” “manipulator,” and a “bitch.” The attacks against her were so bad that some experts believe they influenced the verdict. 

The Heard-Depp trial,  according to Twitter analytics tool Bot Sentinel, was also marked by “one of the worst cases of platform manipulation and flagrant abuse from a group of Twitter accounts.” 


Today, the misogynistic pile-on targeting celebrities doesn’t seem to be relenting—and it may even be on the rise. 

“Back in June, I warned everyone that accounts targeting Amber Heard would eventually shift focus to a new victim, and unfortunately, I was correct,” tweeted Christopher Bouzy, the founder of Bot Sentinel. “The same insidious tactics used against Amber Heard are now being used against Angelina Jolie, and it's only going to get worse.”

According to multiple experts, the Depp-Heard trial, which ended with an overwhelming win for Depp, helped create a “playbook” for online hate against women that can now be used against women like Jolie as well as women who aren’t famous. In fact, several Twitter accounts compared Jolie to Amber Heard last week (“AH 2.0”) and in the UK, an abuser accused of physically assaulting his girlfriend while drunk nicknamed her “Amber Heard” in his phone, the survivor said in court.

Westworld actor Evan Rachel Wood, 34, has also been the target of hate as her former partner Marilyn Manson sues her for physical abuse allegations she made against Manson, whose legal name Brian Warner.


Days after the Depp-Heard verdict, a Manson supporter tweeted, “They’re already panicking another famous woman may be exposed as a liar… And they have good reason to.” The account also referred to Wood as “Amber Heard 2.0.

For many, the current tone of online misogyny feels like a stark reaction to the progress made during the post-#metoo era. 

“The pendulum analogy comes in,” said Mandi Gray, a University of Calgary researcher and gender justice expert. “When there are small steps of progress that are made, whether it’s for gender equality or any other type of equality, the pendulum will always swing the other way; it's a constant back and forth.”

Unsurprisingly, media watchdog Media Matters found that some conservative news sites declared the “end of MeToo” after Depp won big in his defamation suit against Heard. Fox Sports’ Clay Travis went on Hannity after the verdict dropped and said, “That jury said, we are not #BelievingAllWomen. This is the end of #MeToo.” Conservative YouTuber Steven Crowder tweeted, “Johnny Depp defeated #MeToo.”

“People feel emboldened,” gender-based advocate Farrah Khan told VICE News.

“It's an emboldenment across the board of misogyny—and hate across the board towards women—that people are more comfortable being open with,” Khan added. “This online harassment and hate is framed as men behind the bush, or a troll behind a computer, when it’s actually orchestrated hate against women.”


A desire to empathize with men, or “himpathy,” compounds the problem, Khan said, with people rationalising abusive behaviour away by pointing to issues like Depp’s and Pitt’s substance abuse and addiction.  Many sites have published headlines sympathetic to Pitt, emphasizing his “misery” following his split with Jolie or how “sick to his stomach” he is over abuse allegations. (He denies allegations of abuse.)

Vitriol on social media can also work in concert with legal action to create a difficult situation for survivors, said Gray, a gender expert on the link between defamation suits and reported sexual assault.

When people face a lawsuit and online backlash, they sometimes have to face the impossible decision of either opting to remain silent or becoming spectacle, Gray said. 

And these patterns are stark: Jolie, Wood, and Heard have all been sued by the men they’ve accused. Depp and Manson launched defamation suits against their former partners for statements they made about their experiences with abuse. Meanwhile, Pitt allegedly tried to get Jolie to sign a non-disclosure agreement that would prevent her from ever speaking out about abuse allegations, a move that Jolie called “abusive” and “controlling” in her counterclaim. 


NDAs are also an effective lever, Gray said.

Convicted rapist Harvey Weinstein compelled his employees and accusers in Hollywood to sign NDAs, and his former assistant Zelda Perkins actually broke her NDA in order to speak out against him. The late and disgraced former Fox News network chief Roger Ailes as well as Bill Cosby and former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly also employed NDAs against alleged victims.  

Khan also believes that the intense hate transpiring online doesn’t just latch onto celebrities; it's also targeting her fellow advocates, journalists covering gender, and anyone speaking out publicly against misogyny. 

“This isn’t just celebrities. This is linked to our daily lives… Celebrities stand in as an example, but make no mistake: This is about hatred of women,” Khan said. 

Though Jolie, Heard, and Wood are white women who benefit from having conventionally attractive looks, fame, and money, that’s not the case for most survivors.

That’s partly why advocates have repeatedly warned that the visible hate targeting famous women like Jolie and Heard could result in a chilling effect that will silence survivors who worry they’ll face similar—or worse—backlash if they report.

Gray said Depp’s win could be viewed as “permission” for perpetrators to pursue defamation suits that “silence quite effectively all discussion around sexual violence, gendered violence.” And, it “sends a message to others who are considering reporting [violence] or speaking about it in general terms,” she added. “The internet is a hostile place and oftentimes that translates into the real world.” 


“Our ‘social location’, so our ability, employment, race, shape how we are targeted,” Khan said. “Do we feel safe even disclosing? And how is the violence addressed by police and workplaces?”

Black and Indigenous women, for example, are more likely than white women to experience sexual assault and rape. They’re also the least likely to be believed by police. 

Inequitable treatment of survivors is obvious in the celebrity world, especially to women of color. “When Lupita came forward, the way that people dealt with that was very different than when white women came forward,” Khan said, referring to the moment Lupita Nyong’o shared her own experience of sexual assault at the hands of Weinstein, who is currently under trial in Los Angeles, where he faces a second round of criminal sexual assault charges.

In the meantime, it’s worth paying attention to these patterns playing out in Hollywood because of their influence and possible ripple effects. Khan said Depp’s victory created a blueprint “where instantly there is a PR machine behind creating her as a perp… we see that with Jolie, we already see that started with Evan Rachel Wood.”

“This is a playbook and as a public we've seen the results of that,” Khan added.