Experts say Johnny Depp’s trial memes can have ‘serious real-life consequences’


Amber Heard (right), Johnny Depp (left). — Reuters
Amber Heard (right), Johnny Depp (left). — Reuters
  • Depp sues ex-wife for $50 million, who is countersuing for $100 million.
  • Legal proceedings of case have become source of entertainment.
  • Brands, content creators, and celebrities might be capitalising on case.

The Johnny Depp v. Amber Heard defamation trial is inescapable on social media being highly viral worldwide. It began in mid-April when Depp sued his ex-wife for $50 million, claiming she defamed him in 2018 by calling herself a “public figure representing domestic violence.” Heard is countersuing Depp for $100 million.

The legal proceedings of the case, streamed online and televised, have become a source of entertainment. Not only all the graphic details of domestic abuse are shared online, but the internet is also full of jokes and memes regarding the case.

CBC News reported that the jokes revolving around the case can have real-life consequences.

“It’s a meme-ification of domestic violence,” CBC quoted Farrah Khan, a gender justice advocate and the director of Consent Comes First at Toronto Metropolitan University, as saying.

“We’re seeing a proliferation of misinformation about domestic violence. We’re seeing people see entertainment in it,” she said.

Heard is a target of extreme hate all over social media and content creators find it a great opportunity to gain more views and “shares” in the sad details of the marriage.

Khan said that she had been observing content creators, specifically on TikTok, using Heard’s audios from the trial to re-enact and mock her stories of being beaten and raped during the couple’s brief marriage.

“We have to really think about how sexual assault and domestic violence are becoming entertainment for us or are being seen as a joke,” Khan said.

Fans are creating videos that compile “highlights” of the court proceedings. Paula Todd, a lawyer and media professor at Seneca College, thinks that it has turned into a Depp’s fans versus Heard’s fans match. 

He said that people were constantly asking him whose side he was on which he found “bizarre”. 

“I’m not on anyone’s side. The idea of a trial is that as much authentic evidence as possible is put before a jury,” he said.

With the trial becoming a viral source of entertainment, there are a lot of misinformation and conspiracy theories surrounding it, further making it a non-serious matter. The visibility of the trial online has trivialised the matter.

CBC quoted an expert on fan engagement at the University of Nottingham in Ningbo, China, who said that some brands, content creators, and celebrities might be capitalizing on the case’s position.

Even the jury cannot escape the content. They have been asked by the judge to turn their cell phones off during the trial.

“The problem with that is that how many jurors do what they’re told?” asked Todd, the lawyer.

Heard claimed that she had received death threats throughout the proceedings.

“Jokes and memes about domestic abuse have serious real-life consequences,” said Khan.

“Jokes become ideas […] this idea that you can demean, police, persecute, and punish people,” she said.

“Then it becomes harassment, threats, and verbal abuse. Then it can also if people think that’s okay, then lead to other things like sexual assault, physical violence, and murder,” Khan added.

“So I don’t think these are jokes,” she said. “These are real people’s lives.”



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