In English-language YouTube and TikTok, a new trend is rapidly gaining momentum: the creation of mocking content based on the lawsuit between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard. It is only sarcastic about Heard, the actor’s ex-wife, who is suing him for domestic violence.
Johnny Depp and Amber Heard’s marriage lasted about a year. During her divorce in 2017, Amber accused her ex of domestic violence. This has hurt Johnny Depp’s career. He has no longer been invited to high-budget films.
The actor called the accusation slander. Heard’s career also went downhill. The woman was not invited to the roles or her screen time was reduced. Now Johnny Depp is suing his ex because she called herself a “public figure representing domestic violence.” In response, Heard sues the actor for slandering her “abuse.”
The trial between the two actors, which is taking place these days and is due to end today, has received considerable publicity. However, it is somewhat different from the usual media scandal, because on YouTube and TikTok the court has become a flash mob, and in some places even sports.
The New York Times pointed out that reports from meetings are “all filtered through the glorification of Depp and mockery of Heard. Heard blows her nose during her testimony, and a TikTok appears accusing her of snorting cocaine on the stand. Depp adjusts a phone cord near Camille Vasquez, his attorney, and the gesture is replayed in slow motion and exalted as a chivalrous deed.”
American media emphasizes that platforms such as TikTok and YouTube are virtually designed to manipulate raw visuals. They can serve a cult of personality, a persecution campaign, or a brand creation.
The accusation of slander came from both sides, so it was to be expected that the memes would be mocking both stars. However, public sympathies very quickly sided with Johnny Depp and turned into a hate campaign against Heard.
This could be explained by the large number of Depp fans as an actor. However, The New York Times claims that his campaign has garnered the support of men’s rights activists, right-wing media figures, and #BoycottDisney campaigners seeking to take on Depp’s status as a fallen star, conspiracy theorists, and others.
Thus, even neutral channels on social networks picked up the trend in support of Johnny Depp. A husband-and-wife team of personal injury lawyers now spends its days posting trial-themed dance breaks and humoring Depp fans; a TikToker who previously ranted almost exclusively about anime has racked up millions of views with videos of fake Heard text messages. At the same time, woman’s protection is almost non-existent. Even her defenders are branded in court by social media users as outspoken fools or secret Depp fans.
Some users even pay to keep their comments on top during live court broadcasts on YouTube. It costs them up to $400. The more they pay, the longer the comments stay on top.
Viewers evaluate Depp and Heard’s performances in court as studied performances, where everyone has a role. In this case, Depp plays a polite comic character and Heard – is a villain. The directness of the live broadcast from the courtroom and the comments creates the illusion in the audience that they can influence the outcome of the case. And while that’s not the case, they do shape public opinion in real time.
The New York Times warns that the show, which unfolded on social media, is a potentially radical event. The trial between the star couple will end soon. However, it will be followed by a complex mass campaign with the support base included and field-tested harassment instructions. All it needs is a new target.