The UK case verdict was issued by a judge as opposed to a jury—a jury that didn’t have a history of presiding over cases of domestic violence and engaging with lawyers to know what are the common strategies used to get verdicts in favour of clients who are accused of sexual assault and domestic violence, namely DARVO: Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender. The UK case, unlike the US one, was not televised for people to consume and discuss at dinnertime like reality TV. The latter carried on for over 6 weeks, during which period the jury was allowed to go back home and spend time with their families. Whilst the jury is supposed to not opine over the matter with any outside parties, how is one to be truly secluded from the court of public opinion when the whole world tuned in to watch the televised court proceedings? Millions made memes of Heard, mocking her testimony, while Depp was flooded with hashtags of support and montages of his iconic film performances.
While the trial was on—and even now—every post that L’Oréal Paris shared on social media, regardless of whether it featured their products or ambassadors of colour, was inundated with comments calling to cancel/fire/drop Heard, who is one of their key spokespersons. The actor herself has restricted her Instagram profile so that only those she follows can leave comments on her posts. I urge you to take a few minutes to look through her timeline and then visit the profiles of people who have commented on her posts. Those who have open profiles have been attacked by trolls in droves, their comment section resembling a sea of faeces-related retorts and poop emojis. Shortly after the verdict was announced last Thursday, American comedian and actor Amy Schumer put up a post sharing the aforementioned Gloria Steinem quote. That was all. She eventually took it down, but trolls have continued to converge on subsequent posts—even those featuring Schumer’s kid—and taunt her using poop references and hashtags in support of Depp.
As a human rights activist, I have seen this strategy used by autocrats to silence dissenters where they don’t just go after the primary target through cyber attacks, they go after their entire support system too. Anyone who dares to share anything in support of the dissident is attacked with a barrage of hate comments—trolls will disseminate memes and hashtags, flooding the comments section on every social media platform to alienate you from business and social connections. The idea is to make you a social pariah, where no one will even want to be associated with you privately, let alone support you publicly.