Social media ensured Amber Heard would never get a fair trial
TikTok and its fellow platforms aren't interested in justice. That's bad for all of us.
I was completely wrong about the trial. As a white man, I had very little to lose regardless of the verdict of the defamation suit between Amber Heard and Johnny Depp. I thought my awareness that Depp was, is, and will continue to be a huge piece of shit sufficed, and that any more attention given to the situation was a waste of time for everyone involved. The breathless influencer coverage barraging us with Team Depp felt as surreal as it did offensive, and I wanted nothing to do with it.
But so many people clearly did want something from it — a hero, a villain, a courtroom drama, a fashion show — and profit-seeking social media accounts, particularly on TikTok and Instagram, gleefully gave that to them. These platforms don’t run on accuracy or objectivity, they run on heightened emotion and constructed narrative. But even those aware of that fact are negatively impacted by proxy. “Team Depp” believed laughable body movement analysis and misogynistic tropes from legal “experts.” People like me shrugged it all off as a clusterfuck.
And yeah, it most definitely was a clusterfuck, but not one myself or anyone else should disregard, as multiple women and advocates pointed out in the hours following the verdict’s release. TikTok and other social media platforms all but ensured Amber Heard’s countersuit — accepted almost wholesale in the U.K. — never stood in America. We’re all the worse for it, but no one more so than Heard and countless other victims of domestic abuse.
Feelings don’t care about facts — As reporters like NBC News’ Kat Tenbarge and podcaster Michael Hobbes have excellently highlighted, there really is nothing complicated or inconclusive about Heard’s evidence provided during the trial. For just one of her allegations — Depp throwing his phone at Heard, hitting her in the face — copious photographic and textual documentation combined with multiple witness corroborations were provided that lay out in detail Depp’s physically and verbally abusive behavior.
Likewise, the salacious story regarding Heard defecating in Depp’s bed can also be easily countered, but you almost assuredly wouldn’t know any of this to be the case if you only followed the trial via popular social media accounts and algorithmically exploited hot takes by The Daily Wire — which, of course, the majority of audiences did. To invert a favorite platitude of that conservative cesspool’s Dweeb Emeritus: On the internet, feelings don’t care about your facts.
Reality versus the algorithm — Reality was beside the point during this trial, particular for anybody on social media exploiting their audiences’ base emotions for profit, condensing hours upon hours of courtroom footage into minutes’ long narratives beholden to no journalistic standards or commitment to objectivity and accuracy. It was so bad that, not having ever searched for “Amber Heard” before, even YouTube’s second autosuggested fill for me recently was “Amber Heard lying about Johnny Depp.”
Any given pro-Depp TikTok, Instagram, or YouTube video is liable to be rife with out-of-context trial footage, exaggerated and unsubstantiated quasi-analysis, and influencer narrators shaming Heard for things like past sex scenes in films. Parody reenactments of trial scenes are particularly popular on TikTok, as are lipsyncs, gag edits, and referential skits.
Jurors were recklessly allowed access to this very same social media throughout the course of the trial. Exposed to that barrage of bias, is it really any surprise that subjective media narrative, algorithmically enhanced vitriol, and misogyny won out over a woman’s literal paper trail of evidence?
The implications of the Depp-Heard verdict are summarily brutal. It’s easy to forget that this trial, by its very nature, sets a legal precedent — one that wholly discourages victims of domestic abuse from seeking legal recourse. Not only that, but it encourages their very same abusers to silence, intimidate, and possibly even financially ruin anyone with the courage to speak out unless they possess the most ironclad of evidence.
The implications of social media influence are similarly dire. Not only does it actively skew opinions for those who choose to engage in it, it numbs susceptible bystanders into silence and complicity — people like me. And, potentially, people like you.