By making light of Amber Heard’s sexual assault allegations, viral app TikTok has shown its dark side.
Johnny Depp and Amber Heard’s defamation trial has captured the attention of press, fans, and the wider public over the past few weeks.
The court case involves Depp’s attempt to sue his ex-wife for £38.7 million over a 2018 article she wrote for the Washington Post, in which she claimed Depp had been abusing her.
As it continues without sign of an agreeable ending, online response to the trial has taken a turn few could have foreseen.
Outpourings of support for Depp were always to be expected, given his longstanding and far-reaching fan-base. But the sheer scale of this support has been overwhelming.
Fans have lined the streets leading to the courthouse, day after day, holding placards and hand-made notes.
‘We love you, Johnny!’ and ‘Team Johnny’ have been common statements. Others have thrown flowers, stuffed animals – even a small box filled with unidentified goods – into the open window of his passing car.
In cases that involve allegations of sexual assault by a man against a woman, it’s no strange thing that the prosecuted is staunchly defended by the public, whilst the woman faces criticism and doubt.
The #metoo movement has made steps to shift this narrative, driving an international movement that saw victims of rape speak openly about their experiences for the first time.
Women in the public eye, like Gwyneth Paltrow, Salma Hayek, and Rose McGowan, were finally listened to, after years of whispers in the industry regarding their abuse by Harvey Weinstein.
But despite these critical steps forward, it seems we are still struggling to believe alleged abuse victims. Because it’s not just the scale of support for Depp that has marked this trial. It’s the form much of that support has come in.
Social media has followed the trial in each uncomfortable, complex detail. TikTok – the Mecca of today’s zeitgeist – has become a hub of videos from the court house: CSI-style mock-investigations of the evidence, and clips poking fun at both Depp and Heard, their lawyers, and witnesses in the stand.
On social media, the trial has become somewhat of a circus. But the memes and videos mocking Heard specifically have become the cornerstone of a disturbing public narrative.
TikTok is known for starting unexpected viral trends; the renaissance of Louis Theroux’s cringeworthy rap with DJ Wild Wayne a recent phenomenon of note. But the mass-memefication of an alleged assault victim has to be one of the darkest – and most unpredictable – of the platform’s history.
This week has seen the emergence of a controversial round of videos mocking Heard’s facial expressions as she becomes emotional in court.