Monday, November 28, 2022

The official student newspaper of Methodist Ladies' College, est. 2020

Trial by TikTok: the consequences of the Depp v Heard verdict

It’s been over a month since the highly-publicised case of Johnny Depp v Amber Heard reached its verdict, on June 1st, 2022. The case came to a dramatic end, as the jury ruled that Depp should receive $15.4 million in compensatory and punitive damages (this was later decreased to $10.35 million) and Heard should receive $2 million.

The entry of the trial into popular media marked a deeply complex landscape under which both Depp and Heard were scrutinised in the public eye, and Heard was widely villainised by her ex-husband’s supporters. The hashtag #justiceforjohnnydepp circulated with unforeseen speed, and at the time of writing has 21.2 billion views on TikTok. Conversely, #justiceforamberheard has 107.6 million views. TikTok users edited courtroom videos, ran commentary on aspects of the trial, and reached verdicts of their own – all played out on an increasingly frantic scale online.

Hence, the Depp v Heard case was a landmark case in terms of the intense speculation that it garnered and its related controversy, in the wake of historical domestic abuse cases. The case begun when Depp alleged that Heard’s earlier exposé/op-ed with the Washington Post was defamatory to him and indirectly addressed him as her abuser – an allegation cataclysmic to the unearthing of years of suggested violent domestic abuse between the couple.

Almost immediately, Depp received an outpouring of support from a network of dedicated fans, many of whom swamped the daily courtroom hearing in order to attend – notably chanting, bringing signs, and in one case, two alpacas, to support the actor. When the verdict was read in court, fans attending began chanting “Johnny! Johnny! Johnny!” en masse.

Regardless of how you consider the alleged abuse offences committed by either Depp or Heard, it is evident that this ‘trial by TikTok’ under the public eye will continue to have severe consequences on how we view domestic abuse cases and the roles of men and women in the wake of the #MeToo movement. The case was essentially gamified. A TikTok user shared a video in 2022 of a Starbucks drive-in, two tip jars on display reading ‘Team Johnny’ and ‘Team Amber’. This sentiment was echoed by much of the internet, in a debate that was both intensely skewed and equally polarising.

The offences allegedly committed by Depp and the public controversy that had once plagued him appeared to vanish at the commencement of the trial, including relevant details like his prior defence of child predator Roman Polanski. At the conclusion of the trial, Depp was widely lauded by the public in a manner more synonymous with reality TV than a domestic abuse trial. Public scrutiny has always been a part of celebrity trials; the comedic dramatisation that Depp v Heard garnered has not, and should not be, irrespective of the alleged victims or perpetrators.

However, commentators on the trial have noted its ability to bring awareness for men as the victims of domestic abuse, an important topic that should not be ignored. Unfortunately, the awareness associated with Depp v Heard brings with it a demonisation of women, and adds a misplaced fuel to the fire of the internet’s rampant misogyny and misandry. It is important to note that Heard, having perpetrated domestic violence, is as unrepresentative of all women as Depp is of “#notallmen”. The social ramifications of the trial’s verdict could therefore allow for a dangerous erasure of female abuse victims, and an increasingly more complex landscape for victims of any gender to achieve justice.

The fact remains that, as a woman, Heard has faced a hatred in the public eye over the course of the trial that is unparalleled in comparison to the vast majority of male perpetrators in domestic abuse cases. Ultimately, the lessons to be taken away from the Depp v Heard trial are those of humanity and respect, regardless of gender, and the potential damage of overly publicising matters of the court. The effects that this trial will have in the future could have lasting consequences – now, a generation of internet users are primed to once again become amateur lawyers, deciding verdicts of their own. 

Bibliography:

Cocoran, L. (2022). This Is What The Johnny Depp V. Amber Heard Verdict Came Down To. Retrieved 15 July 2022, from https://www.elle.com.au/news/amber-heard-johnny-depp-defamation-verdict-explained-27136

Nast, C. (2022). The Johnny Depp–Amber Heard Verdict Is Chilling. Retrieved 15 July 2022, from https://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/the-depp-heard-verdict-is-chilling

Sillito, D. (2022). Amber Heard and Johnny Depp’s ‘Trial by TikTok’. Retrieved 15 July 2022, from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-61649522

Tait, A. (2022). ‘Amber Heard v Johnny Depp’ has turned into trial by TikTok – and we’re all the worse for it | Amelia Tait. Retrieved 15 July 2022, from https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/may/11/amber-heard-jonny-depp-trial-tiktok-fans

#justiceforjohnnydepp Hashtag Videos on TikTok. (2022). Retrieved 17 July 2022, from https://www.tiktok.com/tag/justiceforjohnnydepp?lang=en

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