The defamation case brought by actor Johnny Depp against his ex-wife Amber Heard is still ongoing, but the court of social media seems to have already declared a winner.
Posters on Twitter and TikTok have overwhelmingly backed Depp, with hashtags like “JusticeForJohnnyDepp” racking up more than 2 billion views on TikTok. Similar hashtags have been tweeted thousands of times. A search for “JusticeForAmberHeard” on Twitter displayed tweets calling for justice for Depp.
Creators and experts explained why they think social media discussion around the topic seems to be overwhelmingly favorable of Depp.
Depp is suing Heard for defamation over an essay she wrote for The Washington Post in 2018, in which she said she had become the “public figure representing domestic abuse.” Although the article never mentions Depp by name, his attorneys said it indirectly refers to abuse allegations she made against him during their 2016 divorce. Heard is countersuing Depp seeking $100 million in damages.
The trial in Fairfax County, Virginia, is expected to take weeks.
Both Depp and Heard have testified that the other had been physically violent with them during the course of their relationship.
Heard’s legal team presented evidence, including 2013 text messages in which he appeared to say he would subject her to a violent death, arguing that Depp had been physically violent with and had made threats against her. Depp appeared to write in a different 2013 exchange that he would “smack” her around before letting her in, referring to her using a vulgar insult, according to Heard’s legal team. During the trial, Heard’s legal team repeatedly brought up Depp’s prior drug use, including his use of cocaine, alcohol and opiates.
In May 2016, Heard was granted a protective order after she claimed Depp hit her in the face with a cellphone. Depp denied getting physically violent with Heard.
Depp lobbed allegations against Heard in court as well, claiming that she would pick fights and escalate them with demeaning language. He also said she would sometimes “strike out,” saying that she would slap or a shove him, or throw something at him.
Depp’s attorney’s provided images of Depp after alleged altercations and audio of Heard making statements, such as, “I was hitting you. I was not punching you.”
Some on social media back Depp
On platforms like TikTok, videos of the trial, sympathetically edited clips of Depp and audio recordings of the couple, which appear to show Heard as the aggressor and Depp as the victim, all appear under the “JusticeForJohnnyDepp” hashtag.
Some TikTokers will give play-by-plays of the day in court, recounting the latest testimony or evidence presented. Others suggest unproven conspiracy theories, including one in which users say Heard is intentionally mimicking Depp’s outfits as a way to psychologically intimidate him.
On Twitter, some who back Depp have suggested that Heard isn’t being held to the same standard as male domestic abusers and criticized her behavior during the couple’s marriage.
In court filings before the trial, Heard said she hit Depp only in self-defense or in defense of her younger sister, according to The New York Times.
“Amber Heard got a free pass for her lies and violence for 6 years. This gender bias must end now. Make her accountable for her actions, Virginia, we trust you,” Twitter user and Depp supporter Ayca Gurelman wrote.
Why has the court of social media sided with Depp?
Experts said there may be many reasons why so many people have used social media to declare their support for Depp, including recognizing him as the characters he’s portrayed in films such as Captain Jack Sparrow from Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise and the titular “Edward Scissorhands” from the 1990 Tim Burton film.
“Amber, in my opinion, wasn’t known too well until she started dating Johnny,” said Becca Catherall, a TikToker who has posted videos about the case. “She became well known when she made the allegations against Johnny and because the world knows Johnny and loves him, I believe that everyone is going to be angry and upset that such allegations have been made towards him.”
Other factors experts have theorized might play a role in the internet’s devotion to Depp include internalized misogyny and the live spectacle of the courtroom, which some have claimed makes Depp look vulnerable.
Seth Lewis, the Shirley Papé chair in emerging media and director of journalism at the School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Oregon, said it can be hard to pinpoint one reason in particular as the internet’s dominating attractor to Depp.
“Sometimes things become popular because they’re already popular at a baseline level,” Lewis said, adding, “I think we’re in this moment where people are fascinated by authenticity. It’s the reason people will find greater trust in what seems to be raw video footage on social media or on YouTube.”
Lewis credits this desire for authenticity with why so many have been fascinated by the Depp case — and Depp’s seeming vulnerability on the stand as a reason so many might be backing him.
Some have said Depp’s quiet and calm responses while talking about previous drug use and other personal matters is a sign of his vulnerability during the case.
Lewis added that a platform like TikTok is benefiting from this obsession with authenticity, and it makes for a perfect venue to hash out the Depp-Heard case.
Still, he emphasized that for each person, there may a different reason why they latch on to Depp as the case plays out.
“For other people, it’s maybe a feeling that somehow men haven’t been listened to adequately in the Me Too era, and for other people it could be totally different reasons,” he said.
While Lewis suggested that some may be backing Depp because they worry that the Me Too movement didn’t represent male victims as much as it did female victims, others suggested that Depp might actually be benefiting from deeply ingrained societal misogyny.
David Schmid, pop culture expert and associate professor of English at the University at Buffalo College, State University of New York, said he feels that some people might “look at the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard situation for evidence” that misogyny is a thing of the past because the case has a man accusing a woman of domestic violence.
Schmid added that people, who might feel “cancel culture” has gone too far, may also find themselves rooting for Depp.
“I think a lot of people look at what’s happened to Johnny Depp’s career as a result of this situation and say this is exhibit A of cancel culture … a lot of people who think cancel culture gets unfairly applied to men more than women will be following this very closely,” Schmid said.
No matter the reason, TikTokers like Catherall said they feel the internet’s mind has long been made up about when it comes to this case.
“I do believe that majority of the public have already sided with Johnny,” she said.