Johnny Depp’s online fandom is toxic to domestic violence survivors, some online creators warn

Over the past few months, audio clips of the defamation lawsuit involving Amber Heard and Johnny Depp have gone viral as TikTok trending sounds.

“Users were lip-syncing to an audio of Amber’s testimonial and using it to poke fun at her,” said Lauren, a designer known as gothamshitty, who didn’t want her last name be used for fear of harassment from Depp supporters.

“Specifically, they were using an audio of her recounting how Johnny raped her,” Lauren continued. “These users were responding to the audio saying what Amber was describing was not rape but ‘every woman’s dream’. It made me sick.”

Until then, a few weeks ago, Lauren had been “hesitant” to post about the lawsuit, but she said the trend was “too disgusting, misogynistic and disrespectful to survivors around the world” to be ignored.

In a video she posted in May, Lauren expressed her support for Heard, citing previous allegations of abusive behavior by Depp and his 2020 UK defamation lawsuit. She linked Heard’s widespread public contempt to the overthrow of Roe v. Wade and said the social media frenzy surrounding the lawsuit “reflects the immense amount of misogyny and hatred of women that is so deeply embedded in society.”

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

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

The online fandom supporting Johnny Depp, which exploded during his defamation lawsuit against his ex-wife, has turned toxic, some creators say.

Depp sued Heard for $50 million after describing herself as a “public figure representing domestic violence” 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 from the trial flooded social media shortly 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.

Although many Depp supporters celebrated the verdict as a victory for male survivors of domestic violence, they were also accused of harassing creators, including survivors of domestic violence, for expressing anything but support for Depp.

The trial became entertainment

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

Popular entertainment, whether it’s a YouTuber’s weekly vlog or a beloved TV show, often inspires fan content. In the weeks since the defamation lawsuit began, fans have consumed the live-streamed court proceedings as if it were entertainment and posted content commonly seen in fandom communities.

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

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

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

Under another fan edit of the pair, one TikTok user speculated, “Every time she subconsciously copies her body language [it’s] because she is attracted to him.”

Vasquez has earned her own sequel – fans have compared her to “Legally Blonde” protagonist Elle Woods and started a petition to have her replace Heard in the upcoming “Aquaman” sequel. Singer Jazzmyn Wollfe has gone viral for tattooing herself with an outline of Vasquez, and has been widely criticized for “being too fanatical”.

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

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

As fans created content in support of Depp, content slandering Heard exploded online. Videos criticizing his behavior on the stand have proliferated on TikTok, and creators have made dramatized re-enactments of his testimony using the test audio. Instagram meme accounts shared images mocking his facial expressions and body language.

Disdain for Heard has also reached fanfiction circles, where at least two “revenge fiction” about Heard posted on the Archive Of Our Own fanfiction site have explicitly depicted scenes in which Heard was tortured, sexually assaulted, or killed.

“And you still think that’s a normal reaction to a lawsuit,” creator jordxn.simone said in a TikTok video responding to a sea chant parody about Heard. “I’ve seen some really wild fandom stuff during my time on the internet… None of this compares to this.”

The creators were encouraged to keep posting about the trial because the content got a lot of engagement. Creator Cbatogivename kicked off his TikTok account by posting scenes from TV shows and movies. In late April, they released a clip from the trial showing Depp untangling Vasquez’s phone charger. The video has gone viral and has over 12.7 million views.

“Everyone asked me to post more, so I found more videos and to my delight, they went viral again!”

tiktok creator cbatogivename

“Everyone asked me to post more, so I found more videos and to my delight, they went viral again!” Cbatogivename, who asked to be referenced by his username for privacy concerns, said.

Before posting the clip, they had just over 200 subscribers; three weeks later they were at 269,432, they said.

Several creators have accused Depp’s staunchest supporters of using the lawsuit as an opportunity to demean and invalidate women rather than support survivors of domestic violence.

In a TikTok posted the final week of the trial, creator André Rickman asked, “Where the [expletive] were any of you men’s rights activists when I was attacked? »

Rickman said he “felt seen” because the defamation lawsuit raised awareness among men about survivors of domestic violence, but was skeptical of Depp’s supporters. He wondered why men accused of domestic violence and sexual misconduct, such as Chris Brown and James Charles, hadn’t received criticism from Heard.

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

Another creator who 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 designer known as midwestbimbo, posted a video debunking the “mutual abuse” Depp and Heard’s former marriage counselor described during the trial, people became “absolutely enraged,” a she declared.

She was harassed on several social media platforms with comments telling her to die, and she said she didn’t feel safe “for a while” after receiving a threatening letter to her mailing address. Although Jordan has faced harassment online before — particularly after speaking out against transphobia and men’s rights activists — she said this wave of harassment was particularly trying.

“I laughed at first and even sent a postcard back, but I really understood how serious some of his fans were,” Jordan said. “And made me look at the threats I was getting a little closer.”

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

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

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

lauren, creator of tiktok known as gothamshitty

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

Lauren, the designer who was harassed for criticizing casual misogyny in lawsuit content, has since been inactive on TikTok. She noted that even those claiming to support Depp were “undermining the seriousness of the situation” by treating the matter “like a sports game with teams on the sidelines.”

“Even if Johnny’s claims were entirely true, what’s the point of memorizing every aspect of his abusive experience?” said Laurent. “All the talk this has created – what makes a perfect victim, the ‘legitimacy’ of marital rape – only creates a hostile online environment for victims of all genders.”

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