Depp-Heard, Jews and the social media war - opinion

Amber Heard, a victim who doesn’t fit the profile of what we expect victims of domestic violence to be like, has been demonized as all things anti-men, without any regard to the facts of the case.

 AMBER HEARD looks on during ex-husband Johnny Depp’s defamation trial against her, at a court in Virginia, last week.  (photo credit: Shawn Thew/Reuters)
AMBER HEARD looks on during ex-husband Johnny Depp’s defamation trial against her, at a court in Virginia, last week.
(photo credit: Shawn Thew/Reuters)

It’s not news that social media are ridden with hate, often disproportionately against specific minority groups. The Internet provides a screen of anonymity that gives even the most sinister of beliefs a breeding ground with shared allies. Much has been written about the rise in antisemitism on social media and the glorification of anti-Israel hate, but one look at social media in the last month and the coverage of the high profile defamation case between Amber Heard and Johnny Depp, and we see the gleeful embrace of misogyny at unprecedented, or at least previously unpublished levels. The issues and the motives may be different, but the fact that society is increasingly aroused by cruelty to others on social media should concern all of us.

The controversy centers around an article penned by Heard in The Washington Post in 2018, in which she spoke out about her experiences with a domestically violent partner, (whom she did not name). The article came after a messy divorce from movie star Johnny Depp and a lawsuit in which a court found Depp did engage in acts of domestic violence against Heard in 12 of 14 accounts brought forward by Heard.

Depp’s response to the article was to sue Heard for defamation to the tune of $50 million (NIS 168), alleging mutual abuse, to which Heard is counter-suing for $100 million (NIS 336). Depp’s lawsuit against Heard is the current trial making waves online, with Depp’s much higher profile being used by die hard fans and those with apparent issues with women, to attack and demonize Heard across platforms.

Regardless of who is right in the trial, this bizarre phenomenon has exploded on social media, with thousands of bots and men’s rights activists championing their cause by weaponizing Johnny Depp as an icon for an anti-me too movement. This narrative paints women as conniving manipulative monsters who falsely accuse men of rape and commit other man-hating crimes, and feminism is being blamed for the problems in their respective societies.

Accordingly, Heard, a victim who doesn’t fit the profile of what we expect victims of domestic violence to be like, has been demonized as all things anti-men, without any regard to the facts of the case or the actual trial.

 Johnny Depp defamation case against ex-wife Amber Heard, in Fairfax (credit: EVELYN HOCKSTEIN/POOL/REUTERS) Johnny Depp defamation case against ex-wife Amber Heard, in Fairfax (credit: EVELYN HOCKSTEIN/POOL/REUTERS)

MUCH LIKE what happens with Israel on social media, the result of this oversimplification and cult of personality surrounding a cause (Depp, in this case) is that suddenly millions of people have a strong emotional opinion on what happened, without concern for the facts. That digital lynch mob is reinforced by the presence of thousands of other activists” engaging in confirmation bias and ultimately egging each other on, radicalizing the entire debate.

In the case of the Depp-Heard trial, which looks like tens of thousands of memes, nearly exclusively mocking Heard, TikTok trends bashing her and entire accounts with tens of thousands of followers dedicated to mocking her trial testimony. On Twitter, #AmberHeardisaPsychopath and #AmberHeardIsaLiar are both trending, and tens of thousands of bots are dedicated to defending Depp.

A cursory glance at the comment section in any given post will display a collection of vile, misogynistic drivel that is bound to trigger any victim of domestic violence. Even Saturday Night Live mocked Heard, prompting criticism for making light of domestic violence, which was in remarkably poor taste.

As cruel as the mockery and demonization of Heard is, the consequences will extend far beyond her experience. Every victim of domestic violence or sexual abuse will pay the price, because what woman would ever come forward when the consequences could include millions of people participating in a gleeful celebration of their most humiliating moments and claiming their lying? Regardless of Heard’s credibility or actions, the public’s response to the entire fiasco is a domestic violence survivor’s worst nightmare.

Social media mob mentality acts similar to how in-person mobs behave – they radicalize each other and erode human empathy. On social media, they dehumanize their victims and are aroused by the suffering of their victims – just as we see with Amber Heard today.

This is not a new phenomenon.

Arabic social media has celebrated the murder of Jews for years. During every Palestinian terror attack that has occurred against Israelis, Palestinian social media was flooded with cartoons and praise of the attack. Thousands of anti-Israel activists and accounts obsessively bash Israel and excuse acts of violence against Jews, rhetoric that has been proven repeatedly to lead to radicalization and real-life violence against Jews.

Just because speech is legal doesn’t mean it adds anything productive to the human experience or that something should be said. Social media is a clear example of hateful, racist, misogynistic and antisemitic things that don’t need to be said, yet still are, and are often promoted because they are trending.

Ultimately, this results in action that is not limited to a computer screen. Social media companies must consider how to rein in this alarming phenomenon of mob-motivated hate in their algorithms, while also respecting free speech. Today, it’s the Jews; tomorrow, it’s women. Who will be next?

The writer is the CEO of Social Lite Creative LLC.