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Amber Heard-Johnny Depp trial memes could have ‘chilling effect’ on victims of domestic violence, expert says


As a domestic violence survivor, Ruth M. Glenn said watching the Amber Heard-Johnny Depp libel case was triggering.

It’s not that she believes one side over another. It’s more that the inevitable social media memes and jokes emanating from the trial have heightened the trauma of surviving abuse to another level.

Depp and Heard fought for a week in a courtroom in Fairfax County, Virginia. The ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ actor is suing Heard for $50 million in damages over a 2018 essay she wrote for The Washington Post in which she said she had become the “public figure representing the domestic violence”. Although the essay never mentions Depp by name, his lawyers said it indirectly refers to the allegations she made against him during their 2016 divorce. Heard hits back at Depp, seeking $100 million damages.

Glenn, who is executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, is part of a contingency of social media users following the case who have been horrified by how some on platforms like TikTok and Twitter turned Heard’s testimony about the alleged abuse she suffered during her relationship with Depp into memes, jokes and lip-syncing.

Hashtags like “AmberHeardIsAPsycho” or “AmberHeardIsALiar” have racked up billions of views on TikTok and Twitter. Even searching for content that appears to be pro-Heard, such as the “IBelieveAmberHeard” hashtag, usually yields videos and posts slandering the actor.

“I can’t imagine what that would do to someone who might want to seek security and support,” Glenn said. “Whether it’s Amber Heard or Johnny Depp, how dare we make fun of someone who shares something very personal, no matter how we feel about that person.”

A TikTok spokesperson declined to comment. TikTok’s Community Guidelines state that it “does not tolerate members of our community being shamed, bullied, or harassed.” The platform says it removes “expressions of abuse, including threats or degrading statements intended to mock, humiliate, embarrass, intimidate, or hurt an individual.”

A Twitter spokesperson declined to comment.

Heard will speak again on Monday after the brief court break.

The result of domestic violence survivors seeing these messages could have what Glenn called “a chilling effect.”

For some who have survived domestic violence, watching the teasing unfold on social media has reopened emotional wounds.

“For me, it takes me back to where I was,” said Twahna P. Harris, who is chief executive and executive director of the Butterfly Society. The advocacy group, based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, provides resources for victims and survivors of domestic violence.

“And that’s what happens,” she said. “You are victimized again. You’re not believable, apparently… it drives you mad, it makes you angry. Until you experience it, you will never understand.

Harris, who herself has endured three years of domestic violence and has been advocating for survivors for more than 15 years, said the social media response is very insulting to the victims.

“It’s a slap in the face for victims and survivors,” she said.

Memes at Heard’s expense have become TikTok trends in their own right.

No matter what you think, domestic violence is no fun.

-Carey, 25, who follows the case on tiktok a

An audio clip of Heard describing an alleged incident of abuse has been lip-synced by users nearly 5,000 times. In the clip, Heard says, “I was walking out of the bedroom, he slapped me in the face. I turned to look at him and said, ‘Johnny, you hit me.’ »

In one such TikTok, a ginger tabby cat wearing a blonde wig re-enacts Heard’s testimony. As the testimony plays, a small plastic hand pretends to slap the cat in the face. The video, posted by user @heyitsgingerandpepper, has been viewed more than 13.5 million times, according to Rolling Stone. It was later deleted by TikTok, the user said. She did not provide further comment. TikTok declined to comment on the removal of this video.

Others clung to conspiracies, trying to refute Heard’s testimony by singling out his words, body language and demeanor on the stand. On YouTube, creators have gone from their regular content to creating content on the tryout, racking up millions of views.

“No matter how many times on Twitter and TikTok I’ve clicked ‘not interested’ in this type of content, it always comes to the top of my page,” said Carey, 25, who asked NBC News to identify it only by it. first name out of fear that she might be harassed or doxed by Depp fans.

Carey has been following the legal issues between Depp and Heard since Depp brought a defamation claim against The Sun newspaper in the UK in 2020. The newspaper had called Depp a “wife beater” in response to Heard’s allegations. In November 2020, a judge ruled in favor of The Sun.

While social media vitriol was bad then, it’s even worse now, she said.

“No matter what you think of the case, I don’t understand the desire to make a mockery of it,” she said. “No matter what you think, domestic violence is no fun.”

Experts fear real-world consequences

As more content mocking Heard’s testimony floods social media, experts fear it could negatively affect victims of domestic violence and potentially spur them to remain silent.

As things stand, about 70% of domestic violence is never reported to authorities, according to the authors of the 2020 book “Making Sense of a Global Pandemic: Relationship Violence and Working Together Towards a Violence Free Society.”

“I thought I was living in another world,” Glenn said of seeing the social media content around the case. “I have never seen such a thing.”

Family law and TikToker litigator Limor Mojdehiazad echoed Glenn’s concerns, adding that she fears victims are internalizing the mass humiliation and shame triggered by Heard’s accusations.

Mojdehiazad has been covering the case on TikTok as the trial develops. As someone who works closely with survivors of domestic violence in her practice, Mojdehiazad said she wanted to help her more than 447,000 followers understand the nuance of every twist in the defamation case.

On Tuesday, she posted what she describes as a public service announcement for her followers, asking them to remember that while they may be having fun with the content they create around the trial, “this ain’t no fun reconstructing the audio of the alleged DV’s testimony [domestic violence].”

“I think there’s a lot of callousness and judgment around what domestic violence looks like…take away the fact that we’re talking about Johnny Depp and Amber Heard and whether they’re telling the truth or not,” said Mojdehiazad. “The bigger picture is that there are victims of domestic violence who are also seeing this content.”

Some are already afraid to speak out on this subject. When contacted for this story, two survivors of domestic violence declined to be identified by NBC News or to share details of their experiences, citing one issue: fear that they could be harassed by fans of Depp for speaking out against him.

Mojdehiazad said she hopes people watching the case will come to realize that the Depp-Heard trial proves the many challenges that victims of domestic violence face.

Even two wealthy and privileged celebrities like Depp and Heard can become victims of abuse — and a situation like theirs can also be hard to escape, Mojdehiazad said.

“If everyone at this point stops making fun of the testimony,” she said, “I think we need that to die down so we can learn those valuable lessons.”

If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline for help at (800) 799-SAFE (7233), or go to www.thehotline.org for more. States also often have domestic violence hotlines.

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, call National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-4673. The hotline, run by the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), can put you in touch with your local rape crisis center. You can also access RAINN’s online chat service at https://www.rainn.org/get-help.

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