The internet has become a little more disturbing since April 11, when Johnny Depp’s defamation lawsuit against his ex-wife Amber Heard began. Depp, 58, is suing Heard, 36, for $50 million for defaming him in an op-ed she wrote for The Washington Post in 2018, in which she described herself as “a public figure representing domestic abuse.”
But despite the serious nature of the testimony heard so far – including accounts of alleged sexual assault – social media users have turned the trial into a joke. One YouTube video titled “Johnny Depp’s epic entrance to the trial overshadows Amber Heard’s 😂” has more than one million views. While on Twitter, a clip of Depp laughing out loud when a witness responds to whether he could see Depp’s genitals has been retweeted more than 26,000 times. The Twitter user also uses emojis, subtitles and silly music to turn the scene into a farce.
Another video, this time on TikTok, compiles different moments of one of Depp’s court appearances, where he is repeatedly accused of hearsay. This clip – titled “Johnny Depp being a SAVAGE in court 😂 today has to be the funniest day yet” – uses the same silly music as well as subtitles that are meant to externalize his inner thoughts, and has been liked more than 7.7 million times.
Although it makes sense that content that uses the narrative dynamics favored by algorithms will go viral, it is both unsettling and depressing to see how the defamation lawsuit has become fodder for memes. The trial has been turned into a form of entertainment and this is truly alarming, given that Depp has been accused of physical and sexual abuse, with Heard claiming he sexually assaulted her with a bottle.
Social media users have been able to take advantage of the fact that the trial is being streamed in real-time on YouTube, as well as broadcast on various specialist television channels. All this visual material is fueling the frenzy, especially on TikTok which has proved fertile ground for jokes about the trial.
Since Depp first took the stand a few weeks ago, there has been an explosion of clips making fun of the trial. But what billions of people are sharing is in fact an alleged case of gender violence. What’s more, most of the videos that have gone viral have been made by Depp’s supporters. Debate about the trial on social media has overwhelmingly been dominated by the actor’s defenders. While TikTok videos with the hashtag #justiceforjohnnydepp have been viewed 9.8 billion times, videos with the #justiceforamberheard hashtag only have 36 million views. Some of these videos include conspiracy theories about whether Heard’s lawyer is actually a Johnny Depp fan.
And there have been other shameful moments, most notably when a cosmetics brand decided to ignore its scruples and take advantage of a trial – where accusations of gender violence have been made – for self-promotion. This occurred when Heard’s lawyer told the court that the actress had to use makeup to cover up the bruises that Depp allegedly caused her during their relationship. To reinforce the idea, the lawyer held up a makeup product for the jury to see. Although the lawyer never mentioned the brand, TikTok detectives quickly identified the product as belonging to Milani Cosmetics. The beauty brand used the sudden attention to release a video – now viewed more than 5.5 million times – to explain that the specific product showed in court, Milani Cosmetics’ All-In-One Correcting Kit, was not released until after Depp and Heard separated. Never mind that the lawyer was only using it to bring home the point. Nobody should ever give up an opportunity for public exposure, even if it comes thanks to an accusation of domestic violence.