Johnny Depp is suing Amber Heard, claiming her 2018 op-ed defamed him.
Depp fans have flooded social media with pro-Depp and anti-Heard messaging.
Baseless rumors and misinformation about the case have racked up millions in views.
Actors Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, who married in 2015 and divorced in 2017, are mired in a high-profile legal battle that has turned into one of the biggest pop culture moments of the year. The trial has also given rise to rampant misinformation, baseless speculation, manipulated videos, and otherwise unverified rumors that have received millions of views across social media.
Depp sued Heard for $50 million over a 2018 op-ed she authored for the Washington Post in which she said she was a survivor of domestic violence. The op-ed did not mention Depp by name, and the 58-year-old actor lost a similar libel trial against The Sun tabloid in the UK in 2020 after it published an article calling him a "wife beater."
Not long after the trial began in April, it became clear that Depp's fans on social media would dominate the discourse surrounding the trial, flooding platforms like Twitter, TikTok, and YouTube with pro-Depp messaging. Videos on TikTok using #JusticeForJohnnyDepp have more than 12 billion views on TikTok, while videos using the similar #JusticeForAmberHeard have 44 million.
Depp fans have created fancams of the actor, the style of videos popularized by Kpop fans, and have fashioned together videos praising Depp for his perceived humor and wittiness in court. They've also focused on spreading anti-Heard content, and some of the most widespread videos and posts are misleading and littered with unfounded rumors and misinformation.
Despite fact-checks, baseless claims about the trial continue to rack up views on TikTok and other platforms
YouTube creators have gone viral and racked up millions of views by entirely shifting their content, pivoting from other content styles like gaming videos or makeup reviews to pro-Depp videos as part of the so-called "Justice for Johnny movement," NBC News reported. Many Twitch streamers have made similar pivots, according to Kotaku.
And the trial has bolstered the lawyer-to-influencer pipeline, with numerous lawyers posting daily videos and live commentary on platforms like YouTube and TikTok, building a following and raking in views and advertising revenue while offering commentary on the case.
Viral rumors about the case appeared to circulate almost immediately after Heard first took the stand on May 4. On May 5, tweets emerged claiming that Heard had "directly" lifted parts of her testimony from the 1999 film "The Talented Mr. Ripley." Tweets attacking Heard included screenshots purporting to quotes from Heard's testimony, comparing them with supposedly similar lines from the film.
The screenshots misquoted Heard, who did not use lines from the movie in her testimony, according to a fact check from Snopes. Similar claims have been made about other parts of Heard's testimony, including that she lifted dialogue from movies like "Gone Girl" and "Notting Hill." One TikTok video making the claim received over 40,000 views. A YouTube video with more than 400,000 views claimed to depict 10 times Heard stole her testimony from a film.
"Those spreading these rumors appear to be actively searching for evidence to support a belief that they had already decided: that Heard was 'acting' during her testimony in the trial. This is an example of confirmation bias in action," wrote Snopes' Dan Evon, who has debunked several false claims about the trial.
Days later, on May 7, a clip of Heard on the witness stand putting a tissue to her nose circulated on Twitter with various people speculating that it showed her using cocaine on the stand. One tweet that made the claim was liked more than 200,000 times and shared more than 30,000 times.
Fact-checkers at PolitiFact debunked the claim, finding there was "no evidence" Heard used cocaine in court. Heard did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment and has not publicly commented on the viral rumor.
One version of the clip posted to TikTok has more than 38 million views, and other versions of the clip have thousands or millions of views.
Although there's no evidence to support the claim, it is one of many rumors and allegations against Heard that appear to be based entirely on pure speculation devoid of practical realities. Peter L. Tragos, a Florida attorney who has made YouTube videos about the trial on his channel Lawyer You Know, told Insider it is "very, very unlikely" that Heard used cocaine on the stand.
"You would be risking jail time by sneaking illegal drugs into the courtroom, so I don't think anybody's doing that in this case," said Tragos, who has more than 98,000 subscribers on the platform.
Other videos have targeted Heard's lawyer Benjamin Rottenborn, who Depp fans have mocked and cast as a central villain in the trial. A celebrity gossip YouTube channel posted a video on April 24 titled "Amber Heard Lawyer QUITS After Heated Argument About Court Performance," which currently has over 2.6 million views.
The video did not support the claim made in the title, and Rottenborn continued to appear in court during the trial. The account that posted the video, Viral Vision, did not return Insider's request for comment.
Heard's legal team did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.
Claims about the trial have descended into full-on conspiracies
The limitless content has spurred a constant stream of discussion and speculation that at times resembles conspiracy movements or obsessive true crime fandoms. Social media posts and tabloid articles analyze every aspect of the trial and spin theories on everything from Heard's style decisions to conspiracies involving Ghislaine Maxwell, the socialite convicted earlier this year of facilitating sex trafficking for Jeffrey Epstein.
Rumors have also spread about various members of Heard's legal team. In late April, a clip of Johnny Depp at the London premiere of his 2013 film "The Lone Ranger" circulated on TikTok. Those posting the clip honed in on a woman in the background of the video and speculated she was Elaine Bredehoft, one of Heard's lawyers.
One of the first videos making this claim was posted April 23 and has so far amassed more than 2.3 million views. Several subsequent videos showing the same clip also have racked up millions of views. News outlets, including Forbes and The Daily Mail, addressed the rumor after it became widespread online.
There is no evidence that Bredehoft was the woman in the video.
Numerous widely viewed YouTube clips have relied on false or misleading titles to entice viewers, like the clip claiming Heard's lawyer quit during the trial. Others cut the trial into short and shareable moments that remove context from the proceedings, like Depp laughing in court.
One clip from a YouTube gossip channel uploaded on May 19 and titled "Judge RAGES On Amber Heard For Lying & Changing Her Testimony" shows only the judge calmly sustaining an objection from Depp's legal team. It has more than 1.3 million views.
The title of another YouTube video posted by the Hollywood gossip channel FilmStreak tells viewers that late-night host James Corden called Heard a "SICK LIAR," though the claim is never addressed in the 8-minute video. Meanwhile, an 8-minute clip uploaded May 7 by the gossip YouTube channel PopJuice was titled "Johnny Depp's Children Speak Up Against Amber Heard In Court," but Depp's children have not testified during the trial. The video has so far been viewed more than 1 million times.
Capitalizing on the intense anti-Heard sentiment has also become a boon for right-wing news outlets. The Daily Wire spent tens of thousands in Facebook and Instagram ads for articles criticizing Heard, while Fox's streaming news service LiveNow by Fox has posted hundreds of YouTube videos about the trial. One May 16 clip from LiveNow by Fox features a cross-examination of Heard with the title "Amber Heard continues to abuse Johnny Depp publicly, his lawyer snaps."
It has gained more than 10 million views since it was posted last week.
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