The Amber Heard and Johnny Depp defamation trial reached its verdict on 1 May and the jury awarded Depp $10.4 million in damages. The jury deliberated over the allegations and evidence presented in court but outside court, the 'jury of social media' was in full swing.
As many expected, the fall-out of the verdict has fallen on the #MeToo movement, victims and survivors of abuse.
While the trial happened social media sites, especially Twitter, YouTube, and TikTok, were chock full of comic edits and “exposés” about Amber Heard (who has accused Depp of physical and sexual violence) from self-proclaimed armchair true-crime investigators and even people who wanted to ride the trends wave.
The power to judge the veracity of her claims remains, as it should, with the judge and jury but the internet has taken a dark turn after the verdict.
'Believe All Victims' – The Only Acceptable Lesson
There is now a rise in tweets about ‘not believing all women’ and a skewed view at the #MeToo movement, blaming it as the big bad wolf of activism; when it’s actually the opposite.
If there is a lesson to take from Johnny Depp-Amber Heard’s trial, it is to 'believe all victims.'
While ‘men’s rights activists’ tout that the trial is proof that one shouldn’t believe all women, the real focus should be on believing male victims of abuse.
How does not believing women help male victims of abuse get justice? The answer is simple: it does not.
Additionally, the conversations around abuse cannot exist in a vacuum- the access that people get to justice and legal aid depends heavily on their privilege.
The #MeToo movement, ever since it started, has faced opposition from multiple fronts– victims and survivors of abuse continue to find it difficult to have their voices heard, the onus of 'proof' in accusations of assault is always placed on the survivor.
The movement against abuse goes well beyond a hashtag but the momentum the tag gained helped several survivor's believe that there were people willing to listen to them, and support them. After the Depp-Heard verdict, there are several people, both online and in media, claiming that 'MeToo is dead'.
An official website for #MeToo said it best, and it should come from them, "Over the last six weeks (the duration of the defamation trial), we have been confronted with the mockery of assault, shame and blame."
"Countless headlines proclaiming the death of #MeToo. News stories full of clickbait, having nothing to do with the actual work happening to interrupt sexual violence, have come across our screens with haste. No mention of the fact that, not only was this trial not about sexual violence at its core, but there has also been no headline asking the question that really matters – “What do we need to do to prevent anyone else from having to say #MeToo?”"An official #MeToo website
Even before the Depp-Heard trial, there were sections of the internet claiming that the 'MeToo movement had gone too far' that 'men were in danger'– willfully ignoring the impact the movement has had on the conversations surrounding abuse and that men, too, found it easier to come forward with their stories of abuse after the movement gained traction.
Scores of #MeToo activists continue to fight for the right of (all) survivors to speak out without fear of vilification, victim blaming, or worse.
The 'Meme-fication' Of Trial Helps No One – Even Male Survivors Of Abuse
On that note, assuming that women and minorities ‘have it better’ is illogical purely based on social hierarchy. It’s also evident that sexual, religious, caste, racial, economic (and other) minorities are wary of police because, as the #BlackLivesMatter movement has highlighted, they are at a disadvantage.
The memes and ‘Try Not to Laugh’ compilations about the trial, even if in Depp’s favour, are in poor taste. Male victims of abuse are often faced with mockery and creating a spectacle around the trial doesn’t encourage victims of abuse, of any gender, to come forward.
Social media turned Depp and Heard into cinematic archetypes –the suave, charismatic hero faces the manipulative villain – purely out of snippets from the trial tailored for their viewing by their internet algorithm.
The internet is still full of ‘takedown’ videos and ‘romantic’ edits of women in Depp’s team with the actor. The psychologist taking the stand for Depp was dubbed a ‘hero’ and the one testifying for Heard was termed a ‘quack’.
Are We Having The Right Conversations?
Many have also pointed out that the treatment Heard got during this trial is further proof of how women are put on a higher pedestal. Heard is not the first celebrity trial to involve an male victim of alleged abuse. So, yes, we ARE having the wrong conversation online. We aren't putting the focus on victims and survivors of abuse or the institutions that enable and often support perpetrators of abuse.
For instance, celebrities like R Kelly and Kevin Spacey have both been accused of sexual assault and violence by men and neither went through the social media vilification like Heard.
In fact, one of the trending songs on TikTok in June 2022 is by R Kelly and several people on Twitter continue to say that they’re ‘fans of R Kelly and his music’.
After multiple women had accused Louis CK of sexual misconduct, he had said in a lengthy statement, “These stories are true,” and he then went on to win a Grammy in 2022.
Ever since the OJ Simpson murder trial from the 1990s became a public spectacle providing fodder for tabloids for years to come, celebrity trials are rarely ever out of public eye. But the attention the Depp-Heard trial got all but weaponised it against victims of assault and the #MeToo movement.
Whether Heard won or lost in that court was immaterial, the narrative that had been created about her testimonies are disheartening and troubling. The way victims of abuse are treated has to change (irrespective of gender) but for that, the lens must move away from trying to discredit the very movements trying to do so.