There’s a theory about egregious behavior on the internet that goes like this: sometimes social media is great for helping people connect, bringing new voices into the public sphere and exposing the grievances of what we used to call “in real life.” But sometimes the internet takes the existing social forces and amplifies them to the point of creating a feedback loop that separates its participants from reality, making IRL more and more unreal day by day.
Johnny Depp’s successful defamation lawsuit against his ex-wife Amber Heard, who accused Depp of abusing her, became one of those moments. In recent weeks, many feminist observers have been dismayed that the trial served as a platform for a vicious online hate against Heard, who Depp also accused of abusing, and which some saw as signs of a backlash against the #MeToo movement.
The experience was the culmination of many digital trends: toxic celebrity audiences online, Which often attacked harshly women in particular; culture Paranoid open source investigations On platforms like TikTok; Monetization features on platforms like YouTube that make it profitable Head talking crowd pleaseexcept for the placePosting from a pro-amber or even neutral site means you will lose followers“As a result, Amber’s evidence has been largely ignored.” Some have argued that the fact that the jury was not impeached may have left her in jeopardy. Online commenting everywhere at home, which may improperly influence their findings against Heard.
But the intriguing thing about Depp-Heard’s trial as an online story is that there are several unmistakable old-school institutions at the heart of the saga, each with its own powerful influence on the chaos to come.
The court system, and its presumption of openness, has been there almost every step of the way, leading to a PR battle of attrition that is tipping in Depp’s favour.
It’s hard to imagine how the Heard Deep’s saga would have ended online without the American court system assuming an openness, beginning with marriage as a legal institution that has long been regulated by government.
The feud between Depp and Heard was a legal story long before it became an internet obsession, starting to surface with Heard’s divorce lawsuit and a temporary restraining order against Depp in 2016 after less than two years of marriage. It sowed the seeds of the coming conflict from the start: Heard’s accusations of physical and emotional abuse; Depp’s camp suggestions that Heard was lying (on one point she indicated that she was drawing)Negative media attention‘); court records that provide an unusually candid overview of the chaos of the famous couple’s private lives. After months of fighting between the camps, they arrive at a Colony about their divorce which, in retrospect, far from resolving the couple’s differences, only paved the way for more dramatic public struggles to come.
It was Depp who launched the next two legal forays into the justice system seeking to clear his name, first in the UK, losing a libel case – in a country where defamation cases are more easily won than America – against a tabloid. who described Depp as a “wife beater”. After weeks of well-publicized testimony on both sides, a judge ruled in 2020, “I have found that the vast majority of alleged assaults of Mrs. Heard by Mr. Depp have been shown to meet civil standards.”
In that case, the past was a precursor: some British observers noted at the time that the campaigns on social media He seemed to lean definitively in Depp’s favour even though he lost the caseThey were alarmed by the repercussions. The Observer wrote at the time: “Attitudes toward civil action over domestic violence claims can certainly be changed, and it has already blurred the boundaries between evidence scrutinized by the ruthless court of public opinion.”
When Depp chose to get a second shot at the allegations and sued Heard for defamation directly in Virginia over allegations that he abused her, and a Fairfax County, Virginia, judge agreed that the proceedings could be broadcast on television, it set the stage for the next feeding frenzy.
The ACLU played a critical role as a behind-the-scenes media influencer who, along with The Washington Post, inadvertently created Heard to suffer a rare loss in an American speech case.
At the center of Depp’s lawsuit in Virginia was the Washington Post 2018. editorial Under the title of Heard, titled “I have spoken out against sexual violence – and confronted the wrath of our culture. That must change,” who described Heard as a “public figure representing domestic violence” and who “had a rare perspective on seeing, in real time, how institutions protect Men accused of committing violations.
“Imagine a strong man as a ship, like the Titanic,” said the piece. “That ship is a huge project. When it hits an iceberg, there are a lot of people on board striving to fill in the gaps — not because they believe in the ship or even care about it, but because their fate depends on the project.”
Depp argued that the Washington Post article was clearly about him and thus made defamatory allegations that he was abusive. But far from being a carelessly written personal piece cut short in the heat of the moment, it was written by an employee of the ACLU, in consultation with multiple ACLU attorneys, with input from Heard’s legal and public relations team. Heard became an “ambassador” for the Civil Liberties Union, founded in 1920, after declaring that half of the $7 million in divorce settlement payments she received from Depp should go to the legal nonprofit organization. One of the reasons the nonprofit took Heard, according to testimony from ACLU general counsel and chief operating officer, Terence Dougherty: I heard a huge following on social media.
The ACLU decided to capitalize on that next, and Heard’s vision of her next role on “Aquaman,” by helping her put together a traditional opinion piece in the traditional high-profile media real estate she could secure, preferably a reputable outlet like the New York Times or The Washington Post.
The ACLU task force’s perspective was that “Amber is about to receive an incredible amount of press and be in the public eye, so what better time than now to publish this editorial so that it generates a large readership on our issues?” Dougherty testified, Adding, “Posting op-eds on matters like this is the ACLU’s bread and butter.”
Dougherty testified that Heard’s attorneys removed “references to her marriage and divorce” with Depp, in an apparent attempt to avoid violating the non-disclosure agreement she had signed with Depp as part of her divorce settlement, but it was the ACLU’s understanding that Heard was referring to Depp without naming him.
Neither the ACLU nor the Washington Post named Depp as defendants for their role in Heard’s article, which was apparently written by Washington Post editors – cited in Depp’s lawsuit as one of the defamatory elements of the article.
Depp’s victory over Heard, both in court and in online opinion, shows that the old dark arts of Hollywood power still exert a great deal of influence on how stories unfold.
New TikTok. Fandom is not. The courts are not. Legal teams and celebrity PR teams are not.
A possible decisive factor in the case was the successful choice of venue by Depp’s attorney to defend the case in Virginia, which has a weaker position. Anti-SLAPP Law From California, although Depp and Heard live in California and work in California and have witnesses in California. Depp’s team won the argument that since the Washington Post (based in neighboring Washington, D.C.) printed editions and servers in the state, it was a niche. The anti-SLAPP laws could have provided an opportunity for Heard to dismiss the case more easily on free speech grounds before reaching trial. No trial? No online nutrition craze.
In some ways, successfully planting the case in Virginia, despite the state’s poor contacts at best with both Heard and Depp, was merely a shrewd attorney. Then there was the less regular counsel by one of Depp’s lawyers, Adam Waldman, who started the case in October 2020 after a judge found Waldman had leaked classified information to the press, According to court news.
Court records show that Heard’s lawyers have lifted sanctions against Waldman, accusing him of being a “propaganda dog” of using the legal process to wage an illegal digital PR war against Heard at the same time by leaking documents including audio recordings and surveillance photos to the press and even to Twitter users without Hand them over to Team Heard. “Mr. Heard’s team wrote that Waldman’s continued efforts to manipulate the press and disregard the discovery obligations are wholly inappropriate and fundamentally inconsistent with Ms. Heard’s rights to a fair trial and full and fair discovery. Waldman did not immediately respond to The Times’ request for comment.
Waldman became central to Heard counter suit Against Depp, which, in addition to saying Waldman discredited her by calling some of her allegations a “hoax,” noted that the bot-like accounts on Twitter that she was also sullied, curiously, praised Waldman. On trial, addictive refused to answer Many questions in his testimony because of the privilege of attorney and client.
After a jury finds that Heard had slandered Depp but that Waldman, while working as Depp’s representative, He also denigrated HeardWaldman posted a lyric by Kanye West on his Instagram account: “The truth is just what you get, right?”
Waldman’s other recent post was a screenshot showing that he had been permanently suspended from Twitter for violating the platform’s policies.