TikTok’s Amber Heard Hate Machine

Anyone else who appears in court risks being made into a popular internet hero or smeared as a liar. Heard’s attorney, Elaine Charlson Bredehoft, is branded “Karen” (once a term for a racist white woman, it has since become an all-purpose misogynistic slur) and conspiratorially constructed as a covert Depp fan. , while Vasquez is cast as a Depp love interest, hailed as an internet sensation for her “intimate” interactions with her client. Apparently, all the women tangentially involved in the case have been imbued with Depp’s imagined lust. Dr. Shannon Curry, an expert witness called by Depp’s team, has been celebrated for “exchanging glances” with Depp on the stand; even Curry’s husband, whom she once mentioned as delivering muffins to her office, has become a beloved fanfiction character referred to as “the muffin man.” Meanwhile, Depp supporters have hounded two of Heard’s expert witnesses outside of the medical professional site WebMD, flooding their profiles with one-star reviews.

The live broadcast of the event on the Internet has created its own virtual sport. Every day, hundreds of thousands of viewers flock to YouTube live streams, like the one hosted by the Law & Crime Network, and post comments in a racing side chat. Some pay up to $400 to have their comments featured and pinned to the top of the chat – the more you pay, the longer your comments on the proceedings will dominate. During Wednesday’s broadcast, a participant paid to say that Heard “has a snake nesting in her head”; another promoted his new YouTube song about Heard’s legal team.

The immediacy of the live broadcast and his commentary gives viewers the illusion that they can somehow influence the outcome of the case; someone is always begging for an internet artifact to be “forwarded to Camille”, as if the obsessive attention of fans could solve the case. This week, Depp’s team called a witness who came forward after he posted a tweet in response to coverage of the trial on a pro-Depp Twitter account.

Even if they can’t influence the trial itself, viewers can shape public opinion in real time. Once a fan-fiction scenario gains enough momentum to reach escape velocity, it soars into the mainstream tabloids, which are littered with reports of Depp’s courtroom dalliances and epic witness deposition statements. Once gossip journalists had to create celebrity stories themselves, but now the narratives are pulled directly from social media and enshrined as Hollywood canon. Gossip sites are regurgitating banal celebrity internet activity as touching Depp content: Jennifer Aniston followed Johnny Depp on Instagram as a “subtle sign of support,” the magazine claimed, and Depp followed Aniston as a “sweet gesture.” “.

But when Julia Fox supported Heard on Instagram, she soon became the center of attention for articles about how she was hypocritical and “totally stupid.” When a celebrity doesn’t provide such dubious material, it can simply be made up: A YouTuber recently edited and dubbed test footage to make it look like Heard’s “Aquaman” co-star Jason Momoa appeared on the stand to fawn over Depp. attorney.

It’s tempting to ignore all of this, to refuse to feed the machine even more thoughtfully. But like Gamergate, which took an obscure controversy from the gaming community and inflated it into an anti-feminist internet bullying campaign and a broader right-wing movement, this nihilistic circus is a potentially radicalizing event. When the trial ends this week, the elaborate grassroots campaign to smear a woman will remain, now with a connected base of support and a field-tested harassment playbook. All you need is a new lens.

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