In April 2022, Johnny Depp and Amber Heard’s three-year-long defamation and domestic violence case ended in Depp’s legal victory. The long-running drama dates back to 2018, when a divorced Heard wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post alluding to having suffered domestic abuse at the hands of Depp (Heard, 2022). Since then, Depp had been in the public spotlight, and has been deemed the “wife-beater”.
Then, in 2019, Depp sued Heard for $50 million for defamation based on a Washington Post column. Depp suggested that Heard was the abuser in their relationship. Immediately, the tide turned in Depp’s favour online. As the anger between the two sides intensified with the first and second trials, more details began to be revealed: Heard claimed that Depp had repeatedly hit her with various objects, as well as verbally abused her, and issued death threats; and Depp criticised Heard for being a mentally unstable person, defecating in their bed, punching him in the face, and accusing her of cheating on him with Elon Musk (Gbogbo, 2022).
This was a serious allegation of domestic abuse and defamation, but things have gradually turned sour due to the high level of public interest. Fewer people paid attention to the case itself, and more people watched with anticipation as the celebrity couple revealed more explosive details.
“My Dog Stepped on a Bee”
At the final trial, an all-social media frenzy began when the judge asked Amber Heard to give details and she said: “My dog stepped on a bee”. Many people filmed videos rhyming with the phrase to make fun of Heard, while others created memes to mock the use of overly exaggerated expressions to describe a mundane and mundane event.
Some people may say: “It’s not hate speech, people are just having fun.” My answer would be negative to this one, it is hate speech. In our common sense, hate speech ‘expresses, encourages, stirs up, or incites hatred against a group of individuals distinguished by a particular feature or set of features such as race, ethnicity, gender, religion, nationalist, or sexual orientation (Parekh, 2012, p. 40), also disability. What is more important, sometimes the speech itself need not necessarily be violent or emotive, or to lead to public violence in and of itself to be hate speech.
At the beginning of the furore, Amber Heard was considered a brave female who dared to speak the truth and was against both domestic and social abuse, while Depp experienced an overwhelming amount of abuse and even lost almost all of his business partnerships including his contract with Disney for Pirates of the Caribbean at the time (Gbogbo, 2022). But as time passed on, the two’s positions quietly changed. People slammed Heard for saying she was being dramatic, emotional and lying while appreciating Depp for persevering. It is well known that Depp won the lawsuit and Heard was awarded $ 10 million in damages (Gbogbo, 2022). Although this seemingly three-year-long tug-of-war was a big win for Johnny Depp, there is really no winner in this white war.
Right now, the focus is totally on digging out more details about the couple’s explosive relationship. In addition, many content creators are making memes and creating videos to chase the hotspot and gain more traffic flows. It seems that people are more likely to spread memes and video clips on social media platforms. This is rather than realising the case itself is about serious defamation and domestic abuse. While it is undeniable that many of the videos are indeed very funny and can cause you to laugh, is having fun the right thing to do?
What is the Entertainmentalization of Hate Speech?
Entertainmentalization of hate speech is the phenomenon of transforming hateful and discriminatory speech into entertainment for others. This can involve turning hate speech into jokes, memes, or other forms of media content that are meant to be amusing or entertaining, rather than taken seriously.
A major social media platform for spreading Johnny Depp and Amber Heard’s trend is Tiktok. The platform itself is highly entertaining and addictive. First, it makes its content very easy to consume and share through its short video format, where people can consume more content on Tiktok in the same amount of time. At the same time, the interface has been designed to be simple and convenient to use. Users can easily scroll down to access upcoming content with just one finger. Furthermore, it is a user-generated content platform where there is a constant flow of users who keep creating and updating various subjects, especially those related to celebrities like Depp, who are already well known, and the enthusiasm for secondary creation is only growing. Finally, Tiktok’s own algorithmic feed, which pushes more relevant content based on users’ interests and preferences, means it is easier to form a community and predict who will be in that group (Bujph, 2022).
Back to the beginning with Depp and Heard’s lawsuit. When the trial ended, Amber Heard received a lot of abuse in the aftermath, calling her a “gold digger” and “a liar”, and her scenes in the Aquaman movie were heavily cut; Depp, who won the case, was offered a new movie deal and her career is gradually returning to the track. But the aftermath of the trial, based on both’s celebrity status, is much more than that.
Based on this trial, Full Stop Australia CEO Hayley Foster called social media commentary around the trial “extremely distressing” (Brown, 2022).“Not only for Heard but for any victim-survivor observing and seeing the attack that happens when someone speaks about the abuse they have experienced,” Rather than one-sided abuse, Ms. Foster introduced the concept of “mutual abuse”.
“We need to understand the difference between mutually toxic relationships and abusive ones,”
“This does not make them the abuser, and it does not make it mutual abuse.”
“We need to understand the difference between mutually toxic relationships and abusive ones,” she added.
“Of course, there are toxic relationships where both people use violence and abuse to attempt to resolve conflict, but where it becomes domestic abuse is where one person exploits their disproportionate power to dominate and control the other person.
“In most cases, men in relationships have more physical and other forms of power, and there are social norms that men can and should be in control. These norms create the social conditions for men to use violence and abuse in their relationships – and to get away with it.”
“When victims of domestic and sexual abuse fight back in a situation where they have less power, it can be seen as mutual abuse, but in actual fact it’s a defence mechanism. Our society has this prevailing idea that real victims don’t fight back. They’re meek, mild, and helpless,” Ms Foster said.
“In reality, however, people who have experienced violence and abuse in their relationships have had to use a range of methods to resist and to survive. This can include fighting back, especially in situations where they face barriers to reaching out for help and support.
“This does not make them the abuser, and it does not make it mutual abuse.”
The research pointed out that when women claim to have experienced domestic or sexual abuse, it is perceived that they are exaggerating or using it as a means of revenge against men, with men being nearly 32% and 22% more likely than women to do so respectively (ANROWS, 2017).
On this basis, the case of Johnny Depp and Amber Heard only makes the already difficult existence of victims of domestic violence and sexual assault who really need help even worse.
What is the Harm of it?
We have seen too many tragedies caused by hate speech on the internet. However, what we need to be more vigilant about is hate speech entertainment. Usually, users can easily identify hate speech that is very emotional and extreme. Nevertheless, when the person making the hate speech is soft-spoken and even tries to cover the hatred with entertainment, people may find it hard to distinguish the harm hidden in it and just take it for fun, and spread it unconsciously because it is entertaining. Such sugar-coated poison will only slowly corrupt people’s minds.
Normalize the hatred. Through various means, hate speech can be normalized through entertainmentalization. Firstly, social media algorithms designed to promote popular and engaging content can amplify hate speech if it is shared and liked frequently, making it more visible to users and normalizing it in the process. Secondly, social norms can lead to hate speech being more acceptable and even expected among certain groups of people, leading to hate speech spread. This is especially true for young people who have not yet developed a mature mentality. And according to statistics, teenagers make up a third of social media users. Thirdly, humour can be used to accept hate speech by making it seem harmless or funny without notifying them it is hateful. This makes it more acceptable to express hateful views and leads to hate speech spread.
Misinformation. Video creators on the platform may exaggerate and hilarity their secondary distribution. When uninformed viewers are first exposed to such entertaining, processed information, it is difficult to avoid misinformation and spread it unconsciously. Also, misinformation can be purposely used to normalize hate speech by spreading false information and conspiracy theories that promote hateful views. This makes it more acceptable to express hateful views and can lead to hate speech spread.
Trivialized the harmful behaviour. The entertainmentalization of hate speech can trivialize and normalize harmful behaviour in several ways. When hate speech is presented in an entertaining or humorous way, it can make it seem less serious or harmful, and people may be more likely to view it as acceptable. This can lead to the normalization of hateful attitudes and behaviours, which can cause harm to individuals and communities.
Moreover, when hate speech is presented as entertainment, it can desensitize people to its harmful impact. People may become desensitized to hateful language, attitudes, and behaviours, and may be less likely to recognize when it is harmful or offensive. This normalization and desensitization to hate speech can contribute to a culture that tolerates discrimination, harassment, and violence.
In summary, the entertainmentalization of hate speech can trivialize and normalize harmful behaviour by making it seem less serious. This can desensitize people to its impact and spread hateful attitudes and ideas. At the same time, because of the strong entertainment nature of social media platforms nowadays, and the viral nature of the content, entertained hate speech spreads faster than normal one. It is paramount to recognize the harm caused by hate speech and work towards creating a culture that promotes respect, understanding, and inclusivity.
What Can We Do?
Self-regulation: As a User
- Be aware of the impact of hate speech and avoid engaging with it. Refrain from sharing or commenting on posts that contain hate speech or offensive language.
- Speak out against hate speech and report it when you see it. Use the reporting functions available on social media platforms to report hate speech and encourage others to do the same.
- Support positive content that promotes respect, understanding, and inclusivity. Share and engage with content that promotes positive messages and counters hate speech.
- Educate yourself and others about the impact of hate speech. Learn about the harmful effects of hate speech on individuals and communities, and share this information with others.
Co-regulation: For the Platform
- Develop and enforce clear guidelines on hate speech. Platforms should develop clear policies that define hate speech and outline consequences for users who engage in it.
- Invest in technology to detect and remove hate speech. Platforms can invest in technology that uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to detect and remove hate speech.
- Promote positive content and conversations. Platforms can promote positive content and conversations that counter hate speech and encourage respect, understanding, and inclusivity.
- Collaborate with users and experts to develop solutions. Platforms can work with users, experts, and community groups to develop effective solutions to reduce the entertainmentalization of hate speech.
External regulation: For governments
- Encourage social media platforms to take action against hate speech.
- Support civil society organizations working to counter hate speech.
- Develop public education campaigns to raise awareness about the dangers of hate speech.
- Create and enforce laws against hate speech.
- Monitor and track hate speech online.
- Engage with stakeholders to develop effective strategies for combatting hate speech.
ANROWS. (2017). Young Australians’ Attitudes to Violence Against Women. Retrieved from https://www.anrows.org.au/NCAS/2017/youth-report-findings/
Brown, N. (2022, April 28). Johnny Depp, Amber Heard trial: Why Internet wants ‘justice’ for Depp. news.com.au. Retrieved April 16, 2023, from https://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/real-life/news-life/johnny-depp-amber-heard-trial-why-internet-wants-justice-for-depp/news-story/363c65cc8048cfe02e6fddcd983f33df
Bujph. (2022, February 7). What makes TikTok so addictive?: An analysis of the mechanisms underlying the world’s latest social media craze. Brown Undergraduate Journal of Public Health. Retrieved April 16, 2023, from https://sites.brown.edu/publichealthjournal/2021/12/13/tiktok/
eSafety Commissioner. (n.d.). Young people and social media usage. eSafety Commissioner. Retrieved April 16, 2023, from https://www.esafety.gov.au/research/youth-digital-dangers/social-media-usage
Flew, Terry (2021) Regulating Platforms. Cambridge: Polity, pp. 91-96.
Gbogbo, M. (2022, May 25). A timeline of Johnny Depp and amber heard’s relationship and key moments from court case. ABC News. Retrieved April 16, 2023, from https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-05-26/johnny-depp-v-amber-heard-timeline-defamation-domestic-violence/101098658
Heard, A. (2022, June 2). Opinion | Amber heard: I spoke up against sexual violence – and faced our culture’s wrath. that has to change. The Washington Post. Retrieved April 16, 2023, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/ive-seen-how-institutions-protect-men-accused-of-abuse-heres-what-we-can-do/2018/12/18/71fd876a-02ed-11e9-b5df-5d3874f1ac36_story.html
Herz, M. E., & Molnár Péter. (2012). The content and context of hate speech: Rethinking regulation and responses. Cambridge University Press.
Wood, P. (2021, March 14). Justice Warriors or troll army? meet the ‘Deppheads’, Johnny Depp’s diehard superfans. The Times & The Sunday Times: breaking news & today’s latest headlines. Retrieved April 16, 2023, from https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/justice-warriors-or-troll-army-meet-the-deppheads-johnny-depps-diehard-superfans-5b5x0pmn7
Youtube. (2022). Amber Chain #TheManniiShow.com/series. YouTube. Retrieved April 16, 2023, from https://youtu.be/Sf8V2WvZWh4.