Monday, November 28

Johnny Depp’s online fandom is toxic toward domestic abuse survivors, some online creators warn


In the last few months, audio clips from the defamation trial involving Amber Heard and Johnny Depp went viral as trending TikTok sounds.

“Users were lip-syncing to an audio of Amber’s testimony and using it to mock her,” said Lauren, a creator known as gothamshitty, who did not want her last name used out of fear of harassment from Depp’s supporters.

“Specifically they were using an audio of her recounting how Johnny had raped her,” Lauren continued. “These users were responding to the audio by declaring that what Amber was describing was not rape but ‘every woman’s dream.’ That sickened me.”

Until that point a few weeks ago, Lauren had “hesitated” to post about the trial, but she said the trend was “too disgusting, misogynistic and disrespectful to survivors everywhere” to ignore.

In a video she posted in May, Lauren voiced support for Heard, citing previous allegations of abusive behavior from Depp and his 2020 defamation trial in the United Kingdom. She linked the widespread public disdain of Heard to the overturning of Roe v. Wade and said the social media frenzy surrounding the trial “reflects the immense amount of misogyny and hatred of women that is so deeply ingrained in society.”

Lauren said the online response to her video was initially “pretty balanced,” until an “influx of hateful comments started to come in.” She said she tried to delete as many inflammatory comments as she could, but some viewers began harassing her on Twitter, too. A streamer with a large following reacted to her video of her during her stream, and her audience mocked Lauren’s speech and appearance of her in the comments.

“Once the streamer found my video, I hit a breaking point,” Lauren said.

The online fandom supporting Johnny Depp, who ballooned during his defamation case against his ex-wife, has become toxic, some creators say.

Depp sued Heard for $50 million after she described herself as a “public figure representing domestic abuse” in a 2018 Washington Post op-ed. The jury awarded Depp $10 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages, and awarded Heard, who had countersued Depp for $100 million, $2 million in compensatory damages.

Content about the trial flooded social media soon after it began in April. The number of posts expressing support for Depp dwarfed those supporting Heard; On TikTok, the tag #justiceforjohnnydepp has a staggering 19.6 billion views while #istandwithamberheard has 19.8 million and is also used in videos supporting Depp.

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Though many Depp supporters have celebrated the verdict as a win for male survivors of domestic abuse, they’ve also been accused of harassing creators, including domestic abuse survivors, for expressing anything but support for Depp.

The trial became entertainment

“I’m actually sad this trial is coming to an end,” true crime YouTuber Bailey Sarian said in a now-deleted tweet.

Popular entertainment, whether a YouTuber’s weekly vlog or a beloved TV show, often inspires fan content. In the weeks since the defamation trial started, fans consumed the livestreamed court proceeding as if it was entertainment and posted content typically seen in fandom communities.

Viewers posted supercuts of Depp’s facial expressions during the trial. Some started “shipping” Depp with his lawyer Camille Vasquez, and posted fan edits romanticizing their interactions.

Image: Camille Vasquez
Johnny Depp’s attorney Camille Vasquez speaks with her colleague Benjamin Chew in court at the Fairfax County Circuit Courthouse in Fairfax, Va., on June 1, 2022.Evelyn Hockstein/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

“She definitely has a crush! And I’m here for it,” one commenter said under a TikTok shipping Depp and Vasquez.

Under another fan edit of the pair, a TikTok user speculated, “Everytime she’s subconsciously copying his body language [it’s] because she’s attracted to him.”

Vasquez gained a following of her own — fans compared her to the “Legally Blonde” protagonist Elle Woods and started a petition for her to replace Heard in the upcoming “Aquaman” sequel. Singer Jazzmyn Wollfe went viral for tattooing herself with an outline of Vasquez, and was widely criticized for “taking being a fan too far.”

An image of Wollfe's tattoo of Depp's lawyer Camille Vasquez.
An image of Wollfe’s tattoo of Depp’s lawyer Camille Vasquez.Courtesy Jazzmyne Wollfe

“For me the tattoo represented a lot, particularly the strength and passion Camille possessed in her incredibly intelligent delivery of Amber Heard’s cross examination,” Wollfe said. “Traits of outspokenness and confidence I wanted to remind myself to further implement in my own life.”

As fans made content in support of Depp, content maligning Heard exploded online. Videos criticizing her behavior by her on the stand proliferated on TikTok, and creators performed dramatized reenactments of her testimony by her using trial audio. Instagram meme accounts shared images mocking her facial expressions and body language.

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Contempt for Heard reached fanfiction circles, as well, where at least two “revenge fics” about Heard published on the fanfiction site Archive Of Our Own explicitly described scenes in which Heard was tortured, sexually assaulted or killed.

“And y’all still think this is a normal reaction to a trial,” creator jordxn.simone said in a TikTok video responding to a sea shanty parody about Heard. “I’ve seen some truly wild fandom stuff during my stint on the internet… None of it compares to this.”

Creators had an incentive to continue posting about the trial because the content received so much engagement. Creator Cbatogivename started their TikTok account by posting scenes of TV shows and movies. In late April, they posted a clip from the trial showing Depp detangling Vasquez’s phone charger. The video went viral and has over 12.7 million views.

“Everyone commented asking me to post more, so I found more videos and much to my delight it went viral again!”

Tiktok creator cbatogivename

“Everyone commented asking me to post more, so I found more videos and much to my delight it went viral again!” Cbatogivename, who asked to be referred to by their username out of concern for their privacy, said.

Before posting the clip, they had just over 200 followers; three weeks later, they were up to 269,432, they said.

Several creators have accused the most fervent Depp supporters of using the trial as an opportunity to belittle and invalidate women rather than support domestic abuse survivors.

In a TikTok posted in the last week of the trial, creator André Rickman asked, “Where the [expletive] were some of you men’s rights activists when I was abused?”

Rickman said he “felt seen” because the defamation trial raised awareness of male domestic violence survivors but was skeptical of Depp’s supporters. He questioned why men accused of domestic violence and sexual misconduct, such as Chris Brown and James Charles, haven’t received the criticism Heard has.

“Some men will use this verdict as a sort of gotcha moment for all the female victims of domestic violence,” Rickman said. “[I’m] disgusted to see my fellow sisters get bullied, berated in the media and just have to turn the other cheek… I feel horrible and enraged because men don’t care about male victims. If anything they use me as an argument.”

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Another creator who has used her platform to discuss domestic violence after her own experience in an abusive relationship said she was harassed for speaking negatively about Depp.

After Jessica Jordan, a creator known as midwestbimbo, posted a video debunking the “mutual abuse” that Depp and Heard’s former marriage counselor described during the trial, people went “absolutely rabid,” she said.

She was harassed on multiple social media platforms with comments telling her to die, and she said she felt unsafe “for a bit” after receiving a threatening letter to her mailing address. While Jordan has dealt with online harassment before — especially after speaking out against transphobia and men’s rights activists — she said this wave of harassment was especially taxing.

“I laughed it off at first and even sent a postcard back, but it really clicked to me just how serious some of his fans were,” Jordan said. “And he made me look at the threats I was getting a little more closely.”

She said she is doubtful Depp’s supporters are passionate out of genuine concern for domestic violence supporters and referenced actor Terry Crews’ 2017 allegation that a Hollywood executive sexually assaulted him during an industry function.

“If people cared about male abuse survivors there would be more information and resources about them,” she continued. “Along with love and support for men like Terry Crews… Instead it’s used as a silencing tactic.”

“All this discourse this has created only creates a hostile online environment for victims of all genders.”

lauren, tiktok creator knownn as gothamshitty

Although the trial wrapped with the jury’s verdict this week, memes about it continue to blossom online.

Lauren, the creator who was harassed for criticizing the casual misogyny in content about the trial, has been inactive on TikTok since. She noted that even those claiming to support Depp were “undermining the severity of the situation” by treating the case “like a sports game with teams to side with.”

“Even if Johnny’s claims were entirely true, what good does it do to meme-ify every aspect of his abusive experience?” Lauren said. “All the discourse this has created — what makes a perfect victim, the ‘legitimacy’ of marital rape — only creates a hostile online environment for victims of all genders.”




www.nbcnews.com

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