Why on social media, the trial was always rigged against Amber Heard.
For about 8 weeks, the Johnny Depp / Amber Heard defamation lawsuit was the most popular reality show in America. In fact, the topic was mentioned in 16,049,016 Tweets between April 11 – June 1, 2022. As a social analytics company, we’re not qualified to comment if the verdict, Depp getting awarded $10.4 million in damages and Heard getting awarded $2 million in compensatory damages, was correct.
However, what we can illustrate through the data is that there was probably no way for Amber Heard to come out of the trial a winner from the perspective of the audience on social media, regardless of the verdict.
As recently as 2015, Johnny Depp was named by IMDB as the biggest movie star in the world (based on page views). On the day the trial started he had 24.6M total followers on social media. Amber Heard had only 1.12M followers. Based on that power differential in their popularity, the social media audience is coming from a place where they want to give Depp the benefit of the doubt and distrust the motives of the less famous person. For Heard, that was always going to be a near impossible hill to climb.
Depp Gains The Most New Followers, Win Or Lose
Johnny Depp gained 9.56 million followers during his trial against Amber Heard, meaning between April 11 – June 1, 2022. He had only gained 284,582 followers during the previous time period of February 18 – April 10, 2022. On the day of the verdict he gained 1,998,788 new followers on Instagram alone.
Meanwhile during the trial, Amber Heard gained 91,511 followers on social media, compared to 1,281 during the previous time period.
That huge disparity in new followers could be read as Johnny Depp now has his reputation back and the social media audience is now supporting him more as a result, but that really isn’t the case.
On November 2 , 2020 Johnny Depp lost a defamation lawsuit in England against The Sun, around accusations he had abused Amber Heard. On that day, he got 20,605 new followers on social media with Amber Heard only getting 839 new followers on social media. That’s a pretty good indicator that regardless of what the outcome of the American trial ended up being, the social media audience was never going to embrace Amber Heard more than Johnny Depp.
Social Media Sentiment Around Amber Heard Didn’t Turn More Negative During The Trial
There’s been a lot of conversation online about what Amber Heard said on the stand and if it hurt her case, but proportionally on social media, negative sentiment around Heard actually peaked before the trial started. During the trial, Twitter sentiment around Amber Heard was 31% Negative and 13% Positive, with 18% of Tweets expressing the emotion of Anger. In the period immediately preceding the trial, February 18 – April 10, 2022, Twitter sentiment around Amber Heard was 32% Negative, 18% Positive, with 24% of the Tweets expressing Anger.
In contrast, the conversation around Johnny Depp became more negative during the trial. Twitter sentiment around Johnny Depp was 27% Negative, 17% Positive, with 15% of Tweets expressing Anger between April 11 – June 1, 2022. In the corresponding period before the trial, Twitter sentiment around Johnny Depp was 14% Negative, 29% Positive, with only 9% of Tweets expressing the emotion of Anger.
The person whose social media reputation was likely improved the most by the trial, was Camille Vasquez, Johnny Depp’s lawyer. She was mentioned in 320,073 Tweets during the trial, with sentiment around those Tweets being 34% Positive, 16% Negative, and 23% of the Tweets expressing the emotion of Joy.
A Significant Amount Of The Social Conversation Around Amber Heard Was Bullying
Misogyny and cyberbullying was a huge issue in the Tweets discussing Amber Heard during the trial. Between April 11 – June 1, 2022 there were 614,431 Tweets using the hashtag #Amberturd, which partially was a reference to an accusation from the trial. Additionally, 26,694 Tweets referred to Amber Heard as either being a gold digger, a euphemism for a female dog, or as being a British euphemism for female genitalia.
Social Data Indicates Heard Not Depp Was Most Hurt By The Accusations
Johnny Depp’s lawsuit was built on the assertion that Amber Heard’s accusations against him were leading to the perception he was an abuser and this label hurt his career. Based on the social media data at least, there’s a much stronger case the opposite was true. Between 2016 and June 1, 2022 there were 847,179 Tweets using the hashtag #AmberheardIsAnAbuser compared to only 15,074 Tweets using the hashtag #JohnnyDeppIsAnAbuser. In no year was there more Tweets around Depp hashtag than the Heard one. That includes 2020, the year Depp lost a defamation lawsuit in England against The Sun, regarding accusations he had abused Amber Heard.
#JusticeForJohnnyDepp Engagement Is Being Driven By Single Issue Social Accounts
There were 1,046,570 unique Tweets using the hashtag #JusticeForJohnnyDepp between April 11 – June 1, 2022. Of the top 10 of those Tweets that generated the most engagement 6 of those Tweets were from handles that were explicitly Johnny Depp fan accounts, another account referenced Johnny Depp in their profile description, 2 of the Tweets were from a lawyer who calls himself the DUI Guy and said he was covering the trial as a reporter, with the last most engaged Tweet coming from a user who was complimenting the judge on the case.
All of those Twitter accounts were created between January 2010 – October 2021; so none of those accounts were created during the trial. In fact, one of those Johnny Depp fan Twitter handles, emphatically stated in their account description that “I AM NOT A BOT”.
In comparison to another movement about getting justice for a celebrity, there were 974,321 unique Tweets using the hashtag #FreeBritney between June 1 – November 30, 2021 (the period that hashtag was most popular). Of the 10 Tweets that got the most engagement during that time using the #freebritney hashtag, only 2 were posted by explicit Britney Spears fan accounts. In other words, popular Tweets using the #FreeBritney hashtag were less likely to come from accounts specifically devoted to the celebrity than was the case with accounts using the #JusticeForJohnnyDepp hashtag.
Milani Cosmetics Was The Big Brand Winner Around The Trial
In this trial, Johnny Depp was alleging he was defamed in an op-ed by Heard in The Washington Post. Ironically, that op-ed technically didn’t mention him by name. Hence, it’s only fitting the brand that saw the biggest boost on social media from the trial wasn’t mentioned during the trial.
People on the internet became convinced that when Amber Heard and her lawyers said she had used a Correcting Kit to hide bruises on her face, she was referring to a Milani Cosmetics Kit. In response, Milani Cosmetics made a TikTok video pointing out that their Correcting Kit didn’t launch until after Heard and Depp broke up. As a result, that video got 1,219,400 engagements on TikTok and Milani Cosmetics got 204,919 new followers on social media, an increase of 168% compared to the period before the trial.
From a social media perspective, at no point did more people believe Amber Heard than Johnny Depp, going back years. A 2013 English study of 111,891 domestic violence allegations found only 6 instances of false allegations.
In cases where there is not a clear legal winner and loser in a public trial, even one as visceral as abuse, the prevailing social media winner will always be the more popular party. In fact, this case has actually made Johnny Depp a more marketable figure from a celebrity standpoint according to social media engagement.
Given how vitriolic the response was on social media to Amber Heard making such an accusation against Depp, it seems even more onerous to make an abuse allegation against an uber popular celebrity. This should make us question whether we should be creating spectacles of our legal system at work.