When rightwing-tinged nerd sites began heralding the thousands of signatures being added weekly to Change.org’s petition to fire Amber Heard from Aquaman II, some of us who tend to think more critically smelled a rat, er, a bot. Even before outlets like Forbes, The Hollywood Reporter, and The Times of London covered the suspected astroturf campaign to discredit the Queen Mera actress, The Geekbuzz put it out there in a series of articles and tweets revealing the history of such practices and how easily automated petition signers could be bought. For the first time, though, there’s a video that shows the technique in action.
Youtuber and Information Technology expert Robart Lio posted a video yesterday that shows bots signing the Remove Amber Heard from Aquaman 2 Petition on Change.org. It uses VPNs, Gmail accounts, and Russian IP addresses to sign it multiple times. No one is stating or implying every signature on the petition is fake, but the hallmark of a good astroturf campaign is to create the illusion of widespread support of something that doesn’t actually exist.
Here’s the video:
The bot’s Russian origin is a crucial aspect of this story. Adam Waldman, Johnny Depp’s attorney who was barred from his upcoming libel case in the United States, is a former lobbyist for Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, a Russian billionaire, and Kremlin insider. It’s believed by some he was involved with or has insider knowledge, of the 2016 hacking of the US election.