This is a highly publicized and very popular process that opened in the state of Virginia, United States, a few weeks ago. At the origins of the affair, multiple trials between the two ex spouses, Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, since their divorce in 2017, where she accused him of verbal and physical violence under the influence of drugs and alcohol. In 2018, the actress wrote a column in the Washington Post, where, without mentioning her ex-husband, she indicated that she had become a “public person who represents domestic violence”: it is on this statement that Johnny Depp filed a libel complaint. , asking for $ 50 million from his ex-wife. That he started a $ 100 million counter-lawsuit accusing him of a smear campaign.
This high-profile prosecution based on reputational issues is, as a symbol, filmed and broadcast live by Court TV, a channel specializing in the fields of justice-police, the judicial environment and criminal investigations. A broadcast that also takes place on social networks, YouTube, Twitter and Tik Tok in the lead, where the summaries are presented and analyzed after each day of audition. A process of stars, but above all of rehearsals: with photos, videos, text messages and sound recordings, the two parties come to talk about their relationship in what is most intimate, from their sexual relations to their private exchanges.
Stéphanie Lukasik, doctor in information and communication sciences, is not surprised by the attraction of social networks for this experiment: “It is in the continuity of a new information ecosystem, in which social networks become the main information channels”, she says. . It is more specifically on Tik Tok that we find most of this content related to the trial: comments on the statements of one or the other, montages of video excerpts on dramatic music, analysis of the plot to prove Amber Heard’s lies, testimonies Emotions of fans about Johnny Depp’s sadness … At this stage of the process, the Internet seems to have mostly sided: Amber Heard is a liar and Johnny Depp a victim. “We are moving from a court of justice to a socio-digital court, because we know that social networks tend to exacerbate the polarization of opinions,” adds Stéphanie Lukasik. The hashtag #JusticeForJohnnyDepp explodes on Twitter, accompanying a series of misogynistic messages.
If the trial between Amber Heard and Johnny Depp is not the first hypermediatized trial in Hollywood, it takes a particular turn due to the involvement of Internet users. “What I find interesting and unprecedented in this case is that it happens at the height of several web phenomena: a bizarre mix of different online communities, web researchers …” says Lucie Ronfaut, a journalist specializing in information technologies. As the reporter writes in her Rule 30 newsletter, these content creators include a mix of Johnny Depp fans, anti-feminist and transphobic activists, web investigators and crime fans, as well as a number of opportunists who don’t hesitate to ride the controversy. . Each subject of the two sides is combed through, from the makeup brand Amber Heard used to hide her bruises to the gory details of sexual assault, through the attitudes and attire of the protagonists during the trial. “One of the main objectives in sharing this content is to express one’s opinion and persuade through emotions,” says Stéphanie Lukasik.
The responsibility of the platforms
In the end, we have the feeling, as Internet users, that we cannot simply be indifferent to this affair. Lucie Ronfaut titled her April 27 newsletter as follows: I don’t want to see Johnny Depp on Tik Tok : “There is a side where we are forced to take an interest, due to the algorithmic recommendation of Tik Tok, which highlights this type of content more than the others. Page for you (homepage offering videos based on tastes and similarities, ed), we don’t really know how this works, but I guess Tik Tok guessed that women my age had a connection with Johnny Depp d in one way or another. It is a local phenomenon that is becoming ultra viral, completely algorithmic ”, explains the journalist.
Unlike other platforms, Tik Tok does not allow you to disable a hashtag or recurring topic, which is potentially disturbing for some people. Anyone can come across testimonies of sexual assault between two cat videos. “It also demonstrates that everything is contained and everything can be contained: your cat, the demonstrations at the Capitol, the processes … We are so used to transforming ourselves into content, to segmenting ourselves on social networks, that ‘we apply this operation to everything’, he adds. Lucie Ronfaut. Even if it means treating a process like a television series, taking the tools of the fans to apply them in a logic of virality, getting to feed an opinion. “When you speak rabbit hole, that is, this spiral of content difficult to control, is not only on the far right, it can affect many topics. It is very disturbing to see teenagers joking about domestic violence, ”concludes Lucie Ronfaut.
Pending the end of the process, which should end in a few weeks, social networks will continue to get carried away… questioning our voyeurism and the strength of algorithms.