Content about the Johnny Depp v Amber Heard defamation trial dominated the internet, primarily content favouring Depp (Image: TikTok)

The Johnny Depp v Amber Heard trial took over the internet. With few true monoculture events left, a defamation trial of two Hollywood stars over public claims of domestic abuse emerged as one of the biggest news events of the year for media both traditional and new — the latter meaning independent content creators on platforms like YouTube and TikTok. 

The weeks-long, live-streamed trial featured emotive testimony and combative cross-examination of two charismatic household names and proved perfect fodder for the online content economy. 

Despite the grotesque nature of the accusations of violence by both parties, clips of moments of the trial, often reshared with music, edits and commentary, dominated social media.

The vast majority of the content was pro-Johnny Depp and anti-Amber Heard, despite a UK court having found that Depp had physically abused Heard on 12 occasions. Videos on TikTok with the hashtag #justiceforjohnnydepp have been viewed 21 billion times; videos with #justiceforamberheard have just more than 100 million views (videos tagged #amberturd have 4.6 billion). 

Such was the thirst for Depp v Heard content that amateur and professional creators pivoted to just making trial content to take advantage of the spikes in engagement that accompanied it. “Makeup artists, meme accounts, comedians, lifestyle influencers, K-pop fans, movie reviewers, true-crime podcasters, real estate influencers — suddenly the Depp trial was their primary focus,” Washington Post’s Taylor Lorenz wrote. Creators reacting to the trial were earning thousands of dollars a week just from audience donations and advertising revenue.

TikTok creator Scout Robert’s content about the trial went viral, showing the thirst for Depp v Heard content (Image: TikTok/@scoutrobert)

Scout Robert is a content creator who makes videos mixing pop culture with justice reform messages like Britney Spears’ conservatorship saga: “I enjoy spreading awareness on things that I think are important. I also love pop culture and without music and entertainment, the world would be so boring and dull,” she told Crikey in a message.

Robert has been making videos about the trial on TikTok for her 50,000 followers since 2021, often netting millions of views. She is unashamedly pro-Depp but “not because he is ‘Johnny Depp’.”

Robert says she doubted whether Heard’s pictures of her bruises were faked and felt there is a stigma against men speaking out about abuse: “I was in a narcissistic relationship for four years and Amber reminds me A LOT of my ex. It’s scary,” she said.

When the jury came back with a verdict favouring Depp — the Pirates of the Caribbean star was awarded $15 million in damages, while Heard was awarded $2 million for her countersuit — the vindicated pro-Depp and outraged Heard creators produced a firehose of content celebrating or commiserating the decision. 

Then, nothing. The trial was over. People who had spent weeks combing through courtroom footage to remix and share with millions of viewers now had a new question: where to next? 

As soon as the trial finished, interest in Depp v Heard content dropped (Image: TikTok Creative Centre)

Some who pivoted to Depp v Heard content have gone silent. A TikTok account belonging to user Annie Setyan was mostly dormant before the trial. In just over a month, Setyan posted nearly 200 videos that had amassed 6 million likes and many times more views. But since posting a handful of videos about Depp’s reaction to winning a month ago, the account has stopped posting videos.

Other accounts have moved on to new types of content, with varying levels of success. Large accounts like @willywonkatiktok — run by an American man who used to dress as Willy Wonka but has increasingly been making videos out of costume — had made videos about the trial for his 20 million followers but shifted quickly to other topics. The most viewed YouTube channel showing the trial, Law&Crime Network, went on to trials for Ghislaine Maxwell and R. Kelly, albeit with fewer viewers.

Some have kept on milking the trial. TikTok user Cami Twomey grew an enormous audience on the back of Depp v Heard content: she went from 5300 followers in March to 590,000 today, according to social media analysis tool Social Blade. While she’s making content about other pop culture and entertainment news, such as Justin Bieber’s facial paralysis, she continues to make videos about Depp and Heard, which perform significantly better than other content.

Robert tells Crikey that she’s still making the same justice-themed videos, but fewer featuring Depp: “He deserves a break from all this nonsense. He won. But I do still post upcoming projects he’s talked about! I’m all for supporting him now after the hell he went through,” she said. 

The most recent video she did on the topic — ”Here’s a list of every person Amber Heard cheated on Johnny Depp with” — got 1.2 million views, compared with an average of 1500 views for Robert’s five non-Depp related videos that followed. 

Having achieved varying levels of success since the trial, content creators who rode the Depp v Heard trial have something to look forward to. Last week, Heard’s representatives said that the actor will appeal the trial’s decision