Why has the internet turned against Amber Heard and is this the end of #MeToo?

Updated 11 hours ago

THE JURY IS outside in the $50 million defamation lawsuit brought by Johnny Depp against his ex-wife, Amber Heard. The proceedings are derived from Heard’s 2018 opinion piece published in the Washington Postin which she described herself as “a public figure representing domestic abuse.”

However, the piece did not name Depp. I heard divorcing Depp in 2016 and obtained a restraining order against him. Over the course of the six-week trial, the Internet erupted with an extraordinary backlash against Heard; the actress has been ridiculed as a liar and fortune hunter. The online reaction quickly evolved from support for Depp to anger and derision towards Heard. Why has the internet turned against Amber Heard? And has this case meant the end of the #MeToo movement?

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The vitriol against Heard is puzzling in many ways. His accusations against Depp have previously been found to be credible. In 2020, Depp sued The Sun newspaper in Britain in the wake of his report of an alleged assault on Heard, in which the newspaper referred to Depp as a “wife beater”. The judge, in that case, was convinced that this description of Depp was accurate and that 12 of the 14 cases of violence allegedly perpetrated by Depp against Heard had occurred.

Judge Nicol stated that he was satisfied on the basis of all the evidence that Heard was “the victim of multiple and sustained assaults by Mr Depp in Australia”. The judge rejected Depp’s claim that Heard cut his finger, noting the depth of Depp’s anger that led him to scribble messages for Heard in his own blood. “I accept her evidence as to the nature of the attacks he committed against her. They must have been terrifying,” the judge concluded.

The widespread support for Depp is also puzzling, particularly given the series of grotesque text messages sent by him after Heard’s request for divorce, which have come to light at trial. In one such message, Depp expressed the hope that Heard’s “rotten corpse is decomposing in the goddamn trunk of a Honda Civic.” In another exchange with actor Paul Bettany, Depp wrote “Let’s burn Amber!!!” followed by “Let’s drown her before we burn her!!! I’m going to fuck her burned corpse after her to make sure she’s dead.”

Heard’s accusations against Depp are among the most serious examples of domestic violence one can imagine; they include allegations of physical and verbal abuse and sexual assault, including forcible penetration with a liquor bottle (Depp has also made allegations of abuse against Heard). An English court, after a 16-day trial, believed Heard’s accusations. So why has the internet turned against him and so many seem to be rooting for Depp?

Guided by the media

The answer may lie in part in the treatment of the matter by some media outlets and even corporations. has been reported by Vice News that the right-wing media outlet the Daily Wire has spent tens of thousands of dollars on social media ads supporting Depp and denigrating Heard. The comedy sketch show Saturday Night Live has parodied trial, downplaying the serious allegations of abuse and describing the trial as “for fun”. Several Starbucks branches have designated tip jars in support of “Johnny” or “Amber”.

The conduct of the US trial itself has facilitated the frenzy, with the judge granting permission for the case to be broadcast live, with millions tuning in each day and snippets and memes being shared across media platforms in real time.

Another factor that could be contributing to the online attack on Heard may be the rise of “anti-fandom,” reported by Kaitlyn Tiffany in the Atlanticwhere people fixate on one (usually female) celebrity perceived as the downfall of another (usually male) celebrity, leading to an online campaign of denigration and the spread of unsubstantiated rumours.

Conspiracy theories about Heard abound, including that she faked her bruises by wearing makeup and took cocaine while testifying in court.

Regardless of the reasons why the tide of anti-Heard material is being posted on social media, this content will no doubt be seen by many people experiencing dating violence. Such violence is widespread internationally. In Ireland, demand for the services of the Dublin Rape Crisis Center reached historical highs in 2019. We also know that gender-based violence is underreported. Research indicates that one of the reasons for this underreporting is the cultural acceptability of such violence.

What happens now with #MeToo?

#MeToo, the phrase coined by the defender Tarana Burkeharnessed the power of social media by inviting women and girls to speak out about their experiences of violence and sexism.

In her Washington Post essay, the subject of defamation proceedings, Heard told a story familiar to many women who have experienced abuse: the fear of reporting sexual harassment and assault, the realization that many institutions are designed to protect male predators, the hope that springs from the conversations started by the #MeToo movement. Now an entire internet culture seems to have sprung up in reaction to the #MeToo movement, with Heard as its target.

The circus around the Depp v. Heard case and the memeification of a trial focused on the most serious allegations of domestic violence reminds us of the dark side of the Internet.

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The same fears that Heard described in her article, of “our culture’s anger at women who speak”, has occurred in his treatment throughout this case. It will certainly further deter victims from coming forward, and this is no laughing matter.

Seána Glennon is an attorney and Ph.D. candidate at Sutherland Law School, UCD and Director of Outreach at the UCD Center for Constitutional Studies.


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