As a survivor of domestic abuse, Ruth M. Glenn said watching the Amber Heard-Johnny Depp defamation case has been triggering.
It’s not that she believes one side over the other. It’s more that the inescapable memes and jokes on social media emanating from the trial have exacerbated the trauma of surviving abuse to another level.
Depp and Heard have been in a weeks-long battle in a Fairfax County, Virginia, courtroom. 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 domestic abuse.” Although the essay never mentions Depp by name, his attorneys said it indirectly refers to allegations she made against him during their 2016 divorce. Heard is countersuing Depp, seeking $100 million in damages.
Glenn, who is chief executive officer of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, is among a contingency of social media users following the case who have been horrified by the way some on platforms like TikTok and Twitter have turned Heard’s testimony about alleged abuse she endured during her relationship with Depp into memes, jokes and lip syncs.
Hashtags like “AmberHeardIsAPsycho” or “AmberHeardIsALiar” have racked up billions of views on TikTok and Twitter. Even searching content that appears to be pro-Heard, like the hashtag “IBelieveAmberHeard,” typically yields videos and posts maligning the actor.
“I can’t imagine what this might be doing to someone who may eventually want to seek safety and support,” Glenn said. “Whether it’s Amber Heard or Johnny Depp, how dare us make fun and make light of someone who is sharing something very personal — no matter how we feel about that person.”
A spokesperson for TikTok 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 spokesperson for Twitter declined to comment.
Heard will take the stand again on Monday after the court’s brief break.
The outcome of survivors of domestic abuse seeing these posts could have what Glenn called “a chilling effect.”