COLUMN: The unhealthy and dangerous media presence of the Depp v. Heard trial


Kyara Morales-Rodriguez, Columnist

The Johnny Depp-Amber Heard trial came to an end, and I am glad to stop hearing people talk about it. Seeing the way people spoke of the trial on social media disturbed me for many reasons, but mostly because it proved something I already knew: media literacy is dead, and we desperately need to revive it. 

This case showed how easily people can fall prey to misinformation and how dangerous that can be in the long run. In this case, the sensationalism surrounding this case could be dangerous for women and survivors of abuse. 

An influx of misleading videos on YouTube and Tik Tok hit the internet, videos that spliced together content from the trial in a way that was purposefully very anti-Heard and very pro-Depp. 

That is when stuff started getting truly disturbing, with this trial bringing out the ugliest side of social media. It brought out people filled with anger and vitriol for Heard, and she became a target of hate, ridicule and misogyny in a way I have never seen directed toward any other celebrity. 

People recorded videos on Tik Tok of themselves jokingly reacting to or reenacting Heard’s testimonies of sexual and domestic abuse. 

People watched the trial like it was a new television series to stream, with some Twitch streamers even having watch parties. 

People review-bombed experts called by Heard’s team, such as psychologists David Spiegel and Dawn Hughes. 

People idolized Depp’s lawyers to a level that was, quite frankly, incredibly weird, with people making “fancams” of lawyer Camille Vasquez, and somebody even getting a tattoo of her. 

None of that should have been happening. The way people treated this case as a form of entertainment shows that we, as a society, do not have the emotional intelligence or the objectivity to be weighing in on issues like this one. 

This trial regards something that has been in the public eye for years, so it was already hard for people to remain unbiased during it. Prior to the trial, public opinion already weighed heavily in favor of Depp, and this trial only made the support and sympathy for him even stronger. People already made up their minds that they did not believe Heard, and that gave them a reason to attack her, to treat her like she is less than human. 

I am not interested in discussing whose claims of abuse are true, because I do not think this issue comes down to picking sides. I am more concerned with how quickly the general public chose sides, how much of that was determined by misleading content on social media and how that could affect society in the future. 

I want people to ask themselves if the media they consumed regarding this case was completely unbiased. I want to ask if they thought carefully before coming to conclusions regarding this trial and what forces influenced those conclusions. 

I want people to ask these questions because this trial created a huge shift in social attitudes regarding women and survivors of abuse, and already we are seeing the disastrous aftermath of it. 

People are already going after women who have spoken out about violence and abuse, including Evan Rachel Wood, Megan Thee Stallion and Melissa Benoist. Already, I am seeing people on the internet branding them as liars and hoping they get hit with defamation lawsuits. 

With Heard, people finally feel like they get to say, “You see! Women do lie about being abused!” 

This trial begs the question, if this is how people are treating Heard, how will people treat survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence in the future? How many abusers will claim defamation after seeing the results of this trial, hoping to receive the same support Depp got?

So remember this: You are not immune to misinformation. I am not immune to misinformation. Nobody is, and that is why we need to be conscious of the media we consume and why we need to get our information from trustworthy sources.