How the meme about the Depp-Heard trial affects real life

Warning: This story contains details of intimate partner violence.

If you’re on a major social media platform, you’ve probably noticed it by now: Tweets, TikTok videos, and other posts about the defamation trial involving actors Johnny Depp and Amber Heard that began in mid-April It has been an inevitable source of viral content ever since.

Depp sues ex-wife Heard in $50 million civil lawsuit Circuit Court of Fairfax County, Virginiaclaiming she slandered him in a 2018 op-ed for The Washington Post in which she described herself as a “public figure representing domestic violence.”

In recent weeks, however, the details of the defamation lawsuit have all but been shelved when it comes to internet content about the trial. Live online, even as jury deliberations begin, critics say legal action has morphed into a boring source of entertainment.

“It’s a memetics of domestic violence,” said Farrah Khan, gender justice advocate and consent-first director at Toronto City University (formerly Ryerson University).

“We’re seeing a flood of misinformation about domestic violence trials. We’re seeing people see entertainment out of it — content creators saying, ‘You know what, this is how I can really build my brand.'”

On TikTok and Twitter, users are pulling audio and video clips from the trial, in which Depp and Heard go into tragic details of their marriage to glorify and discredit either party. Khan said Hurd countersued Depp for $100 million, especially a vicious hate target of TikTok.

“I’ve been seeing content creators, especially on TikTok…captured this trend of using trial audio, especially using Amber Heard talking about being beaten and assaulted, she talks about being raped, reenacted, Laugh at it and find it sexy,” Khan said.

Heard testified that Depp sexually assaulted her multiple times during their brief marriage. Depp has denied the allegations and said Heard was in fact the one who physically abused him.

“We have to really think about how sexual assault, domestic violence can be entertained or seen as a joke,” Khan said.

Actor Johnny Depp waves to supporters as he leaves the Fairfax County Courthouse on Friday. Jury deliberations began that afternoon. (Craig Hudson/The Associated Press)

Another odd trend is the use of fancams — a montage of videos popularized online by K-pop fans – During court proceedings, it was like a reel of so-called “highlights” by either party.For example, fans of Depp can watch Pirates of the Caribbean The star had a sarcastic exchange with Hurd’s lawyer.

That online enthusiasm made the trial feel like a football game, said Paula Todd, an attorney and media professor at Seneca College.

“‘Who do you want to win?’ I get asked that all the time. ‘Which side are you on?’ “It’s weird,” Todd said. “I’m not on either side. The idea of ​​the trial is to bring as much real evidence as possible to the jury.”

What is real and what is not?

As the trial spread like wildfire on social media, so did the misinformation surrounding it.

Fact-checking site Snopes refutes several popular conspiracies about Heard: that she sniffed cocaine out of tissues in court, and that she ripped parts of her testimony from the 1999 film the brilliant mr ripley.

Presumably automated Twitter bots are fueling the online buzz, especially from those from Depp’s camp. vox media.

But Aengus Bridgman, director of the Media Ecosystem Observatory at McGill University in Montreal, said there may not be as much robotic activity as some believe.

“I think in general, robotic activity is exaggerated on things like this,” Bridgeman said.Research by Israeli tracking firm Cyabra shows that of the 23,000 accounts participating in the trial, only 11% is a bot account.

Actor Johnny Depp left court on Friday. Lawyers for Depp and Amber Heard have given closing arguments to a Virginia jury in Depp’s civil lawsuit against his ex-wife. (Craig Hudson/The Associated Press)

ninety three percentage According to NBC News, some of the accounts analyzed support Depp.

“What you really want to see is, well, how much is organically driven and who’s doing it?” Bridgeman said. “Johnny Depp does have such a large group of people who are passionate about the case.”

So, who might be behind this line of rabid Depp supporters online? It’s mostly young people who have a lot of time, Bridgeman said.

“They are very digitally literate. They have different political positions,” he added. “So when we have an online conversation, it’s easy to think that it’s somehow representative of society as a whole. But what you’re actually capturing are those that are deeply engaged and able to drive those narratives.”

Brands, celebrities are involved – but for what purpose?

Celia Lam, a fan engagement expert at the University of Nottingham Ningbo China in China, said some brands, content creators and celebrities could take advantage of the case’s status in the zeitgeist.

“Trials and celebrities were the talk of the day, ‘hot topics’ in social media parlance,” Lim wrote in an email to CBC News. “Associating with these hot topics gives a lift to the individual or brand.”

Amber Heard leaves the Fairfax County Courthouse on Friday. (Craig Hudson/The Associated Press)

Brands like cosmetics company Milani Cosmetics and language-learning app Duolingo made headlines for posting about trials on social media. Lance Bass, a former member of the pop group NSYNC, posted a video of himself reenacting Heard’s testimony on TikTok, which was later deleted. saturday night live satirized the trial in a May episode.

Content creators themselves — especially those who gained online followings for offering in-depth commentary and scene-by-scene — also benefited from the billions of hits the trial generated.

That’s not to say that everyone involved in the trial was opportunistic, Lin said. Some people may really want to show support, or just comment on everyday cultural discourse. Others wanted to weigh the social dimension of the experiment.

“There are a variety of reasons, but they generally indicate the importance of the event.”

real life consequences

The jury in the Depp/Hurd case was not segregated. The judge asked them not to read information about the case online, and even instructed them to turn off their phones during the trial.

“The question, of course, is how many jurors did what they were told?” attorney Todd said.

Dan King demonstrated outside the Fairfax County courthouse on Friday in support of actor Johnny Depp’s rally in support of Amber Heard. (Craig Hudson/The Associated Press)

After all, this is hard to avoid online. The accidental exposure may be one explanation for why people not involved in the case saw it pop up on their social media, Bridgeman said. It might just be looking for them.

Combined with its online triviality, the trial’s broad visibility carries more weight.

“My goal is the truth, because all these people I’ve met over the years cost me my life…these people will think I’m a liar,” Depp testified in April.

Hurd said in Thursday’s testimony that she received death threats during the publicly aired court proceedings.

“Harassment and humiliation, the campaign against me that reverberates on social media every day, and now in front of the cameras in the showroom – I have to relive that trauma every single day.”

Khan said jokes and memes about domestic abuse can have serious real-life consequences.

“Jokes become ideas … the idea can demean, police, persecute and punish people. Then it becomes harassment, threats and abuse. And then it can also, if people think it’s okay, then it can lead to other things like sexual assault , physical violence and murder.”

“So I don’t think these are jokes,” she said. “These are real people’s lives.”


Support is available to anyone who has been abused or beaten.You can access crisis lines and local support services by Canadian Society to End Violence Database. Canadian Women’s Foundation S.O.S is a silent one-handed gesture used during a video call to indicate that you are at risk of violence at home. ​​If you are in immediate danger or concerned for your safety or the safety of others around you, call 911.