The lawsuit that followed Johnny Depp and Amber Heard’s defamation case was something that many of us followed, even if we didn’t want it. It included popular celebrities and information that could create stir and gossip, which had become unavoidable at one point. And the recent docu-series on Netflix, called Depp v. Heard talks exactly about that.
But one thing that we cannot avoid thinking about, after watching the documentary, is what the trial did wrong. The verdict is something we cannot form a judgement on, specifically without understanding the entire process. However, the social impact of the trial cannot not be noticed. It did more harm, than good.
1. Specific content creators and podcast hosts monetized on content related to the trial.
Celebrity lives are too public already, so when the defamation case was opened up for viewership, people wanted to follow. Let’s face it, the intent was never to ‘understand the system’, here it mostly boiled down to gossip. So, people picked statements, moments and opinions and turned them into content for social media. This spiraled into more content, none of which was informative. The bigger issue is that everyone created content that was ‘popular’ and would help them in terms of its monetization. So hardly anybody cared what was unethical.
2. Sensitive topics and incidents were live telecasted for the first time.
The entire case was available for people to follow, with a very easy access on YouTube. The bigger issue is that a lot of the information was triggering, specifically for victims of abuse. For instance, when Amber Heard described the different incidents, a lot of which was very descriptive to give a clear idea to the jury. However, this was available for millions of people to watch, without viewer discretion. Of course, the information impacted people in different ways – which cannot be taken away.
3. Media impacted how people consumed the trial, forming a specific opinion.
While there was a proper role of judiciary in this case, we cannot take away from media’s role in decision making. Every small detail from the case was talked about in newspapers and spread fast on social media. And here, hardly any information was seen as objective. Most details that people got through media, already sided with one person. This meant that the trial was already siding with one party, before a formal verdict.
4. Content creators created funny reels and videos from the assault testimony.
The content on social media picked sides, which is one thing. However, a lot of it also turned sensitive details and incidents into ‘humour’ pieces. This was triggering to watch, but on top of that it was disrespectful to the people who were involved. It’s entirely human to form opinions, but when it becomes mockery and lacks empathy, then that’s plain toxic. The worst part is that, so much of it was done for views and likes.
5. It created an unsafe space for Amber Heard on the internet.
The Depp v. Heard trial was centered around the defamation of one party. But this turned into a debate about deciding (or choosing) a victim. So, even before the verdict was out, people went on to collectively form opinions around the party they found honest. This meant hurling abuses, threats and a lot more at that person. It also served as an example of how victims are usually treated, or would be treated after the case. Hence, shutting down ways for people to come forward.
6. The trial also indirectly led to an unsafe space for women on the internet.
One judgment that I was able to form after watching the docu-series, is that we can hardly form any judgement about both Johnny Depp and Amber Heard. We think we know them, we think we know their lives, but we only saw some details come to light. BUT, the treatment associated with both the people differed, and it screamed misogyny. A lot of people milked on the idea, that ONLY women get to talk about abuse, and hence men suffer…and this narrative ruined too much.
7. People’s personal bias and liking for the actor affected their opinions.
The trial was logically fair, but we cannot deny that both the actors have a different following. This also meant that our opinions were impacted by our biases – and so, general public did not keep an open mind. The verdict may or may not have been affected by that, but the repercussions were a result of this selective thinking. So many people wanted one side to be proved right, that they forced themselves into believing that that was the truth.
8. It reversed the good that MeToo had managed to do.
MeToo was an important movement for many reasons, and the waves made a difference for many people. But after the trial, people increasingly talked about how Amber Heard was an ‘imperfect victim’. It impacted everything that MeToo managed to do for survivors of assault. It indirectly handed power back to the already powerful, specifically on the internet.
It’s one thing to have an opinion, or to feel closely about an issue. But it’s another to think that it gives us the right to mistreat someone we don’t empathize with.