In 2014, games developer Zoe Quinn was accused by their ex-partner, Eron Gjoni, of sleeping with a journalist to get a good review. The claim, which formed part of a ten thousand word manifesto, was completely untrue – the review in question does not even exist – but the outpouring of hate at Quinn was swift and vicious.
Male gamers, seeing an opportunity to reclaim “their” territory from feminists, attacked Quinn and other female gamers online, doxxing them and sending repeated rape and death threats. The year of hate which followed became known as GamerGate and was quickly co-opted by the alt-right to promote anti-feminist rhetoric.
We are seeing a similar kind of coordinated campaign now against Amber Heard and her supporters, in her ongoing trial against Johnny Depp. From popular hashtags to the creation of memes and misinformation, the anti-Amber train has been expertly commandeered by the alt-right.
The case itself is complicated. In court, the outcome ultimately rests on whether or not Heard committed defamation in a 2016 op-ed (in which Depp was not named). None of which appears to matter to those whose support for Depp includes attacking Heard online. As well as negative and abusive hashtags, there have also been coordinated attacks on those who have testified on her behalf, with users leaving fake negative reviews for mental health professionals including David Spiegel, who took to the stand this week.
This coordinated anger against Amber Heard has also been taken up by some publications. Website The Daily Wire spent thousands of dollars on Facebook ads, while Fox News, published an article using the tweets of a GamerGate proponent that was mocking Heard’s appearance. Coverage of the case by alt-right pundits has primarily focused on Heard as the woman who (supposedly) broke the #MeToo movement.
It is being treated by both media outlets and alt-right trolls as the ultimate “gotcha” – forcing the left to admit they supposedly were wrong, that all feminists are liars and that men can be victims of domestic too. This narrative has gripped the consciousness of left and rightwing commentators alike. Content creators who earlier posted in support of BLM, pride and other progressive causes are now sharing #MenToo and #DontBelieveAllWomen hashtags more commonly seen in misogynistic discourse favoured by the alt-right and Incel users. TikTokers whose output includes support of trans-rights, are sharing Ben Shapiro videos, while Candace Owens’ anti-Amber tweets have spawned hundreds of “I can’t believe I’m agreeing with her” replies.
To understand why, we need to understand the alt-right and their formula for viral success. They pick a complicated issue, oversimplify it to the extreme, and claim to have the most balanced take. In the case of Depp Vs Heard, this has involved them claiming we should “believe the facts”, as though all previous cases of violence against women have been decided purely on the basis that a woman reported them.
In truth, nobody ever doubted that women are capable of domestic violence (although in far lower numbers than men). The #BelieveAllWomen hashtag never meant “regardless of evidence to the contrary” in the same way that “Black Lives Matter” did not mean “more than all other lives”. By deliberately misrepresenting this, and encouraging social media users to use the #DontBelieveAllWomen and #MenToo tags, the alt-right are trying to dismantle the MeToo movement, blaming it on Amber Heard, and gaining support from people who previously disagreed with them.
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Some TikTokers have found themselves saying they are “not anti-feminist, [just] anti-Amber Heard”. Others have attempted to justify their choices by including phrases such as “even whiney transphobe Ben Shapiro agrees with me”. But this does nothing to limit the spread of misogyny on platforms already teeming with anti-women sentiment.
Likewise, while I do not believe many of these people have suddenly joined the alt-right, but such messages are being received by those on the alt-right and being used to try and silence female victims.
This goes to the heart of every hot-potato issue that the alt-right touches. Their goal is not to support Depp or his fans, but to promote their growth, and reach new people by attaching themselves to any issue getting public attention.
For the trolls and incels – anything that adds to their goal of making women more afraid to speak out is welcomed. But others who have become more aligned with the alt-right may find themselves at the mercy of the same followers in future, and the overall effect on women’s rights could be catastrophic.