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In today’s online culture, almost anything can be subject to memeification, and the most high-profile domestic violence trial in recent memory is no exception.
After only a few minutes spent on TikTok — a platform often, though sometimes mistakenly, heralded as being a progressive, Gen Z-dominated space for activism and social justice — the algorithm may very well start showing users trending topics like the Johnny Depp vs. Amber Heard defamation trial.
However, social media users may be hard-pressed to find content in support of Heard, despite the ex-spouses both claiming to be victims of intimate partner violence. In fact, the vast majority of content about the trial posted on TikTok appears to be vehemently against Heard.
Since the very start of this trial last month, Depp supporters online have analyzed Heard’s body language, movements and testimony with intense scrutiny. As of this writing, the TikTok tag #JusticeforJohnnyDepp has a whopping 10.1 billion views — more than the tags #AmberHeard (8.4 billion views) and #JusticeforAmberHeard (37.2 million views) combined, though most of the videos in these tags are still anti-Heard.
According to Depp, Heard was a manipulative, abusive and overly “ambitious” partner. He testified she abused him physically and mentally, also claiming she severed his finger by throwing a glass bottle at his hand during an argument.
Heard, on the other hand, claims Depp was the abusive one throughout their relationship, allegedly subjecting her to physical violence on numerous occasions. Several text messages from Depp to fellow actor Paul Bettany were also read aloud in court, in which Depp tells his friend he wants to drown, burn and sexually defile Heard’s corpse.
Since Heard’s testimony last week — where she accused ex-husband Depp of several graphic instances of violence against her, including a sexual assault where she alleged Depp penetrated her with a glass bottle — it’s become a TikTok trend to mimic, mock and cast doubt on her claims.
Several users posted videos of themselves lip-syncing over Heard’s testimony. Others paraphrase entirely, like user @sansanjovs, who ridiculed Heard’s account of a time when Depp allegedly hit her. The video has 2.1 million likes.
Other TikTok users have taken to acting out Heard’s testimony entirely, seemingly in an attempt to prove the unfeasibility of her recounting. (The audio used in the below clip from @tomshipton has been cut and altered, appearing chronologically different from what Heard testified.)
Some social media influencers with massive followings have also taken very public pro-Depp stances, including Jessica Val Ortiz, who has 7.7 million followers.
Last week, Ortiz visited the courthouse in Fairfax, Va., where trial proceedings were being held. She held a small “Go Johnny” sign as the actor left the courthouse in his vehicle. She also filmed several gifts and letters being thrown to Depp through the window of his car.
When Heard left the courthouse in her vehicle, Ortiz filmed the crowd’s silence. One woman can be heard calling Heard “lying” and “narcissistic.”
Perhaps the most vilifying memeificaton, though, is Depp fans who post unsubstantiated claims about Heard, alluding to massive TikTok audiences Heard has done drugs on the stand, smuggled alcohol into the courtroom and posed for crying photos. Each of the following videos have more than 1.1 million likes.
Some Depp fans have also flexed their creative muscles to capitalize on the international interest and spectacle of the trial, all while demeaning Heard and denying her allegations.
In the legal battle between the two stars, both Heard, 36, and Depp, 58, are out to prove the other as the more toxic person. The initial court case began when Depp filed a US$50-million defamation lawsuit over a Washington Post op-ed penned by Heard in late 2018 about domestic abuse.
Heard did not mention Depp by name in the article, but the actor alleges his reputation and career were still “devastated” as a result.
Heard is countersuing Depp for $100 million.