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The social commentary surrounding Depp v Heard is more than a bit worrying


By Sarah Gill
12th May 2022
The social commentary surrounding Depp v Heard is more than a bit worrying

Over half way through the defamation trial, the internet seems to have already picked a side in the Depp v Heard legal battle.

Since the trial began with opening arguments on April 12, the world has been watching the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard trial unfold and didn’t hesitate in forming opinions.

A case of great cultural significance, the trial touches on celebrity status, high profile power play, the MeToo movement and at times appears more like a Hollywood soap opera than a legal battle.

Streamed live on the Law & Crime Network’s Youtube channel — with subsequent snippets and compilations later popping up on TikTok, Instagram and Twitter — the trial has prompted huge amounts of online discourse and it seems like everyone has an opinion on who’s guilty and who’s innocent.

The case at hand

Johnny Depp is suing his ex-wife Amber Heard for $50 million on the grounds that the actor’s reputation and career suffered following an opinion piece written by Heard in 2018 for The Washington Post, though he was not explicitly named.

In the piece, entitled “I spoke up against sexual violence — and faced our culture’s wrath. That has to change”, Heard wrote that she was a victim of domestic abuse and Depp’s counsel are arguing that this constitutes “defamation by implication”.

Heard is counter-suing Depp for $100 million, arguing that he and his legal team defamed her in their statements that her allegations were an “abuse hoax”. She claims that Depp “authorised and conspired” with his counsel in order to “attempt to destroy and defame Ms Heard in the press”.

Some years prior, Depp brought a case against News Group Newspapers, which went on to reveal dark moments from their marriage together. In 2020, Depp ultimately lost, and when he went on to apply to the Court of Appeal, a judge ruled that the article was “substantially true”.

In the current Virginia trial, the jury are simultaneously considering both sides of the case.

The court of public opinion

Regardless of the fact that the trial is only over half way through and we have only just heard harrowing testimony from Amber Heard, the internet is already showing bias. As the trial is streamed live, rage-fuelled comments roll in and the court of public opinion is firmly in Depp’s favour.

On TikTok, the hashtag #JohnnyDeppisInnocent has racked up 1.6 billion views, while #AmberHeardCancelled has amassed 40 million views and #AmberHeard *vomit emoji* has 53 million views.

Across the various social media platforms, anti-Depp rhetoric is sparse, regardless of Heard’s legal team’s claims that her then-husband would carry out “verbal, emotional, physical and sexual abuse of Amber.” Numerous violent text messages sent by Depp have also been read to the jury, though those have been laughed off by #TeamJohnny.

Footage of the pair leaving the courthouse individually shows those gathered booing Heard and cheering Depp on. There’s even a petition gaining momentum online to have Heard removed from the upcoming Aquaman sequel.

With weeks of the trial remaining, we’ve barely even heard half of the story. Doesn’t it feel a bit premature to be taking sides in a legal battle dealing with the relationships between two people we know relatively nothing about?

Empathy vs apathy

Johnny Depp is an instantly recognisable name in the film industry. He’s an incredibly high profile celebrity, having embodied roles ranging from Edward Scissorhands and Willy Wonka to Captain Jack Sparrow and The Mad Hatter. Amber Heard, on the other hand, is largely unknown by comparison.

There is a clear and distinct imbalance at play here. The public know and love Depp, and his large fanbase are remaining loyal. The actor is receiving unwavering support outside the courtroom — with many holding up signs and waving him off — and with fan edits online splicing together clips of Depp laughing in the face of adversity.

In domestic violence cases and abuse trials in general, there is an onus on the injured party to be the ‘perfect victim’. Where Depp’s indiscretions are being chalked down to his eccentricities, Heard has been branded unlikeable and cold.

The opinion also exists that in the wake of the MeToo Movement, the public are eager to feast on the idea that a woman could be potentially lying in order to tarnish an innocent man’s reputation.

While psychologists say that many people will not believe that those they consider inherently good are capable of causing harm, is a legal battle an appropriate topic to be giving your two cents to?

The verdict remains in the jurors’ hands

At the end of the day, though they may be notable celebrities, the trial is between two people, and one of them is lying. While both claim that the other has committed defamation, they are both alleging that abuse was carried out during the course of their relationship.

At this point in time, the testimonies given and evidence heard indicate that neither party is wholly innocent. Regardless of the decision the jury reaches in the end, where celebrities are concerned it seems as though the only verdict of any real merit is who wins out in a trial by social media.

Photography via Law & Crime Network.