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Trial turned TikTok Trend: Behind the Amber Heard and Johnny Depp court proceedings

May 25, 2022

Usually, a loud beep of a Twitter or TikTok notification would be a distraction in the courtroom. Nowadays, social media can even comment on the ins and outs of something as mundane as the civil court system.

When exes and uber-celebrities Johnny Depp and Amber Heard stood at the podium of law, the internet seemed to take a side and stick to it.

Over two years ago, superhero blockbuster Amber Heard wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post explaining that ex-husband and former teen idol turned oddball movie star, Johnny Depp, had allegedly domestically abused Heard.

Depp then followed a lawsuit for defamation of character, claiming that he had lost his Hollywood jobs due to what he believed were false allegations. Heard filed a countersuit for the same reason, claiming that he was lying in the press for calling her allegations false. Now in 2022, everyone with the internet has a front-row seat to what should be a serious trial but has turned into a media circus.

“When I first heard about it, I thought it was kind of silly … they’re both ultrarich," social relations and policy sophomore RJ Schoen said. "They don’t need this money. There’s not really any damages that are going to fix Johnny Depp’s life because he’s not really suffering from any of the allegations from Amber Heard.”

History senior Celeste Rubino has been closely following the trial and its evidence for its long duration. While people are looking towards the stars' personalities for evidence such as Heard's feisty nature or Depp's past as an alcoholic, there is real evidence on both sides that incriminates both of them. These include Heard being accused of domestic abuse in the past and Depp's top of his missing finger, allegedly being injured by his ex. This painted Heard as more of the villain in this story, making her social media's punching bag.

Another piece of evidence that Depp supporters are using is the words of his sister, proclaiming that he would never be abusive because their father was abusive to them. Rubino is however skeptical of this as evidence.

“He may have been a victim of his father, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t be a … perpetrator in the future," Rubino said. "If anything it makes him at higher risk to be in those types of situations.”

With other allegations coming out about Depp such as paying the mother of his children $100 million to speak kindly of him in the press, the trial has seemingly been draped with doubt for many such as Rubino.

“I am part of the Women's Council at MSU and the mantra is always listen to the survivor, always believe the survivor, and the first person who came out was Amber Heard," Rubino said. "If I were following them, I would believe Amber Heard, but as a person with biases, it’s not so black-and-white. There’s a lot of gray.”

However, it is obvious that social media has latched onto this trial, in particular, sending out their own verdicts before the judge does. Many like environmental studies and sustainability sophomore McKenzee Kositzke said Heard is the "more guilty" party in this debate and have subscribed to the narrative that social media is pushing of an abusive and manipulative woman, creating a villain and hero scenario.

“Social media has dichotomized this trial," Schoen said. "There is a hero and there is a villain, and everyone seems to think Amber Heard is the villain, and is lying, and is manipulative, and is the abuser. From what I’ve seen and from the evidence that’s actually been brought forward, it seems like both of them were domestically violent towards one another. There’s proof on both sides there was wrongdoing.”

Schoen believes that TikTok and social media have been treating this with the stakes of a criminal trial instead of a defamation case. Schoen explained it isn't about guilty or not guilty, it's about the monetary value of accuracy.

With the expansive tool that is social media, users have begun running with the popularity and making memes and jokes out of serious trial footage.

“It is bound to happen, especially with something this big," Kositzke said. "I haven’t seen any that are super insensitive, and I find ones about Amber to be pretty funny.”

While Kositzke said memes don't bother her, especially with the humor behind the "Amber Turd" jokes floating around the internet, she couldn't imagine coming home from the trial and seeing jokes about herself being made from the courtroom. Others see a deeper message behind these seemingly lighthearted jokes.

“I think it’s horrible because all of the memes are directly at Amber Heard’s expense," Schoen said. "I think it's telling a really chilling tale to women because the same people who are making these memes are the same people who say that they believe women when they come forward … but now we’re showing a completely different picture where when women do come forward … all of a sudden they are ridiculed in the media.”

Schoen specifically spoke on the ridiculous nature of those reenacting a dramatic and emotional scene from Heard's testimony. Kositzke also explained that these TikTok jokes are where most people get their information about the trial, including herself.

“Online, I don’t think a lot of people are actually watching the actual trial every day … I think they are more watching the TikToks that get put together, which is exactly what I am doing," Kositzke said. "I don’t blame them, it’s pretty entertaining. The trials last forever.”

While Kositzke heavily believes that Depp will win this trial, Schoen said that social media has been used as a tool to skew the results of the trial in Depp's favor, leaving it open to the law on who will be taking on the financial damages.

“I think it really shows people can use direct quotes … and action information to still spread misinformation by skewing things and misrepresenting things said in the trial,” Schoen said.

While stardom has evolved from a small court gathering to the eyes of the world, Schoen and many others said that the stakes are not financially or criminally high for either Depp or Heard, finding that the court of law is being treated like a sports arena, stemming as the product of social media's hyper fixation on influencers.

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