A Nasty 'Playbook' Emerges Amid the Heard-Depp Trial

Amanda Hess writes of the misogynistic online campaign against Heard
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted May 27, 2022 10:01 AM CDT
Online 'Smear Campaign' Against Heard Is Worrying
Johnny Depp in the Fairfax County Circuit Courthouse in Fairfax, Va., Thursday.   (Michael Reynolds/Pool Photo via AP)

It's a televised trial involving two high-profile celebrities, but if you think public opinion on social media is evenly split between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, think again, writes Amanda Hess in the New York Times. On TikTok and other platforms, the pro-Depp camp dominates, and the constant stream of hatred it's directing at Heard is particularly nasty. Depp "enjoys a large and besotted fan base," writes Hess, but this goes further. He has drawn "the support of men’s rights activists, right-wing media figures, #BoycottDisney campaigners eager to capitalize off Depp’s status as a fallen Disney franchise star, sex abuse conspiracists, armchair true-crime detectives, anyone wary of 'the mainstream media' and plenty of opportunists eager to draft off the trial traffic."

Depp's supporters may have forgotten that the actor lost a court case in the UK two years ago when a judge found that claims he physically abused Heard were "substantially true." Maybe they forgot because that trial was not televised live in its entirety, with multiple cameras. This is one is, and "platforms like TikTok and YouTube are practically built to manipulate raw visual materials in the service of a personality cult, harassment campaign or branding opportunity," writes Hess. She sees this as a worrying template and a "potentially radicalizing event" in the vein of the misogynistic Gamergate. When the trial ends, "the elaborate grassroots campaign to smear a woman will remain, now with a plugged-in support base and a field-tested harassment playbook," writes Hess. "All it needs is a new target." (Read the full piece.)

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