The Depp V. Heard Trials: A Lesson in Audience Manipulation (Opinion)


Photo via The Social Dilemma

Seth Diaz, Editor in Chief

The Johnny Depp / Amber Heard defamation trial captured the country’s attention in a way that has not been seen since the trials of OJ Simpson. With the hearings being broadcasted live, social media platforms such as Twitter, Tik Tok, and Instagram have been ablaze with clips and edited videos of the trials. But the hearings have been transformed from a defamation case based off of a domestic violence accusation to a battlefield in which opponents seek to win over not just the jury, but also the internet, cementing itself within popular culture and allowing outside sources to have a significant influence over cultural impact of the trial. 

As with any major event, the hearings have been used for profit in various places of work. Body language experts on YouTube conduct pseudo-scientific analysis, employees at Starbucks and other establishments set up tip jars to let patrons voice their favorite of the two actors, and Tik-Tok and YouTube users have put together compilations of the trial which have been strikingly pro-Depp and very much anti-Heard. Keep in mind, these users either make money off of this content, or obtain the views necessary for them to monetize future content now that they have established an audience. 

The problem here is that these fancams, compilations, and jokes seek to glorify an individual who is not completely innocent either. This preference for the “less of the two evils” instead of proper punishment for both parties is somewhat disturbing. For one, Depp’s text records show a rather grotesque sexual fantasy which involves the burning and defilement of Heard’s corpse to, in his words, “…make sure she’s dead…”. Additional texts and audio recordings show recurring accounts of verbal and psychological abuse towards Heard.

Text messages between Johnny Depp and Paul Bettany

So what do we do with this information? Well, it is unlikely Heard is going to come out of this on top, knowing the overwhelmingly vocal pro-Depp rhetoric across social media. But the greater issue here is going to be how domestic violence cases may be handled in the future. Earlier this month, it was documented that the Daily Wire, a conservative news outlet, spent around $35,000-$47,000 on Instagram and Facebook ads which depicted Anti-Amber Heard ads. These ads redirected to articles that, in some cases, contained false information about the hearings, and were promoted on several right wing personality’s pages. The conservative outlet has also promoted videos about the case by Candace Owens and Michael Knowles, which seek to use her actions to discredit the Me Too Movement. 

It is this willingness to discredit the Me Too Movement that I believe lies at the heart of this disinformation campaign. By sensationalizing a court case, a political ideology can control the narrative of a big event in order to push its own agenda, and demonize another. This, in turn, can have significant effects on future domestic violence cases, with Heard possibly being used by conservatives to bash women who will come forward about their abuse in the future. This type of behavior echoes the way in which Jussie Smollet was used to discredit any allegations of racism by actors/actresses following the revelation that Smollet was lying about a hate crime he paid to have staged in 2019. 

Of course, this is speculation. But seeing patterns of this behavior in the past by conservatives, it is hard not to call it out when you see it. What I suggest to anybody reading this is to remove yourself from online spaces and cable news networks, and find the broadcasts or court documents of the hearings in order to form your own educated beliefs.