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On social networks, Johnny Depp has already won

Since actor Johnny Depp's defamation charge against ex-wife Amber Heard, also an actress, began last April, it has become an inexhaustible source of videos, memes and outlandish theories posted online. On the one hand, this was to be expected, given that it is broadcast in full on American televisions and on several YouTube channels, and since it involves two famous people including Depp in particular, who is one of the best-known actors in Hollywood since the 90s. On the other hand, many commentators have pointed out that the debate that is developing online has in some ways taken a disturbing and questionable turn, especially for the way in which the testimonies of Heard's abuse are treated and for the amplifier effect of TikTok. .

The trial began because Depp had accused Heard of defamation, who in 2018 wrote an opinion piece in the Washington Post in which he called himself “a public figure who symbolized domestic violence”, implicitly claiming that he was subjected to violence by Depp (also if his name was never mentioned). Depp claims the article ruined his reputation and his career and that he is the victim of abuse between the two; for her part, Heard has always claimed that she was the victim of repeated violence by her ex-husband when they were married. The online debate in recent weeks has polarized between the few who agree with Heard and the many who are on Depp's side.

The legal proceedings between the two began in 2016, when Heard filed for divorce and a restraining order against Depp claiming before a court that he had beaten her on multiple occasions. Since then, both in the courtrooms and in the gossip newspapers, various private events dating back to their history have emerged: some in support of Heard's thesis that Depp had an alcohol and drug abuse problem and that he easily became violent towards of his wife, others in support of toxic and violent behavior on her part too. One episode Depp recounted in particular became famous online: he accused Heard of pooping in bed after an argument. During the ongoing trial, new events and very serious accusations emerged: Heard claimed, among other things, that her ex-husband allegedly raped her with a bottle.

– Read also: The much followed trial of Johnny Depp and Amber Heard

Although the arguments discussed during the trial relate to sensitive domestic violence issues and on which the judge and jury have yet to express themselves, the online discussion took Depp's side, against Heard, in most cases. This phenomenon had already begun on the occasion of the divorce, but in recent weeks it has involved thousands of people and reached enormous numbers, becoming a stream of jokes, memes and above all videos.

Most are spreading on TikTok, where videos with the hashtag in favor of Depp, #justiceforjohnnydepp, have 12 billion views – more than twenty times that similar in favor of Heard, whose videos have been viewed less than 50 million. of times. In general, letting oneself be guided by the algorithm of the social network, it is easy to come across videos that propose clips of the depositions in court presented in a way that arouses empathy and sympathy towards Depp, and ridicules and humiliates Heard. The reverse is much rarer.

Memes featuring Depp's laughter, sarcastic expressions or shrewd responses to court interrogation have been viewed millions of times and shared by thousands of people (including on other social networks, such as Twitter). Many online content creators are getting rich by selling all kinds of gadgets with Depp's face and jokes they think are funnier than his depositions. Outside the court in Virginia where the trial is taking place there is a crowd of fans every day ready to show their support for the actor.

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A post shared by Jessica Reed Kraus (@houseinhabit)

On the contrary, the comments under the YouTube videos broadcasting the trial live are very critical and demeaning towards Heard and her credibility: there are those who call her “queen of drama”, who define her “crocodile tears” », Those who comment on her excellent skills as an actress in court and those who highlight her narcissistic traits.

Videos of crying during court interrogation have been used on TikTok to ridicule her and to argue that hers is all a fiction to gain exposure and money. A filter that deforms her face into a rather ridiculous crying grimace, introduced by the Snapchat platform recently, has been used and interpreted by countless users as “Amber Heard's filter”, although Snapchat denied that there was a link. . Often, however, those who argue that Heard just wants to be the center of attention do not take into account the fact that the ongoing trial was wanted by Depp and that Heard had asked the court – without obtaining it – to dismiss the case.

Heard's voice recounting the violence she suffered (in particular a passage in which she says she came out of the bedroom, was slapped by Depp and told him “Johnny, you hit me!”) Has been used as audio by many tiktokers. who built short skits on them, some with grotesque interpretations of the violence being told and ridiculing the episode. Some were removed from TikTok after a few days, on the grounds that they did not comply with the platform's anti-bullying rules, but in the meantime they had been viewed millions of times and many more are still online.

TikTok's algorithm – which continually offers users new content that may suit their tastes – works very well in recognizing phenomena that could go viral and amplify them. That's what happened with the videos sympathizing with Depp and mocking Heard, with the result according to many to ridicule and normalize domestic violence. A tiktoker who made videos on the case of Depp and Heard, interviewed by Rolling Stone, said that he did not follow the trial but that he saw it among the trends of TikTok and that he concluded that Depp is the real victim of violence: ” I'm a creator and I do it to entertain. I don't go into the merits of everything. To do this job you have to keep up with trends “.

On Instagram, influencer Jessica Reed Kraus, who has nearly a million followers, comments on the process daily since it began, backing Depp's innocence with videos and rather shameless disparaging comments towards Heard.

Among the unfounded theories put online by those who want to discredit Heard there is one according to which he would have had cocaine in the handkerchief with which he wiped his nose, to snort it during interrogation. Another claims that she copied part of her keynote address from a scene from the film Mr Ripley's Talent. A far more fanciful conspiracy theory even claims that Heard killed his own mother (who died in 2020) to prevent her from testifying in another trial, the one that took place in London after Depp sued the tabloid Sun, who had him referred to as a “wifemaker”. On that occasion, the court had established that there were all the elements to affirm that Depp had beaten his ex-wife, and had agreed with the newspaper.

@lmdparody

when the sniffs that good! amber Heard seemed to blow her nose UP yesterday in court…. #amberheardvsjohnnydepp #johnnydepptrial #trial #amberheard #johnnydepp #fyp シ #fyp #fy #amber #amberheardtissue #amberheardcrying #amberheardjohnnydepp #johnnydepplawsuit #johnydepp

♬ original sound – Little Ms. Demeanor

The hostility and antipathy towards Heard has also been used for marketing purposes by the cosmetics company Milani Cosmetics. During the trial, in fact, Heard's lawyer had shown a foundation saying that it was the one that the actress always carried with her to cover the bruises that her ex-husband left on her face, without saying the name of the brand. she. Recognizing their product, Milani Cosmetics took the opportunity to publish a video on TikTok showing that that specific foundation had not yet been marketed when Heard was married to Depp, and claiming that Heard had lied. Later, during the trial, Heard had to specify that the one shown was not the exact product she was using in her day, but that she had used it as an example.

Part of this widespread hatred for Heard can be explained by the great and consolidated popularity of Johnny Depp, who is much more famous than her and has been for longer: many people who grew up with Edward Scissorhands and Pirates of the Caribbean can't stand it. the idea that an actor so highly regarded by them may have been a violent and toxic person in some circumstances. On the other hand, however, an article published in Atlantic points out that not all Heard's “haters” have become so because they are fans of Depp.

According to Hilde Van den Bulck, lecturer and expert in online hate movements, the community of users that produces content against Heard has formed in recent years exactly like those of fans, except that instead of being based on a positive sentiment, the ” love ”for someone famous developed on hate. In both cases, fanaticism manifests itself with an intense work of investigation and analysis of everything found online, from which theories and conspiracies derive which are then shared and contribute to strengthening the sense of belonging to a group, becoming a question of identity. .

@ g4r4nce

nothing but amber's bad acting and johnny's reactions to it #johnnydepp #justiceforjohnnydepp #johnnydeppisinnocent #amberheard #kimkardashian #pourtoi #court #foryou

♬ ew this is so cringe guilty – 🧌

The lengthy and detailed testimonies that have emerged so far in the trial have convinced many that the one between Heard and Depp was an extremely problematic relationship – “toxic”, as it is often said – in which both engaged in violent behavior and abuse was frequent. But while the guilt attributed to Heard is not called into question, in the most widespread narrative of the trial on social media, the many episodes that have emerged in which Depp would have been violent towards his ex-wife are downplayed, denied or justified.

The reason why this hatred focuses, between the two, precisely on Heard is not difficult to imagine and has several precedents. The insinuation that it is common for a woman to denounce her famous ex-partner to obtain fame and wealth has always been present in the media coverage of similar cases, and in part it still is today (for example, it happened with several accusers of Harvey Weinstein ). The sexist and misogynistic dynamics that lead many people to empathize more with famous men than with the victims of their violence are then rooted, not only in the United States. This is why the slogan “Believe women” was coined and disseminated, to raise public awareness of the idea that women who report should be taken seriously.

Compared to this discourse, Heard's “haters” do not seem very aware of what they are doing: many, according to Atlantic, claim to behave in this way to support the MeToo movement, discrediting a woman who, lying and pretending, would go against everything for which the “real victims of violence” have worked on in recent years.