Lessons from the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard trial

The sentence issued by a Virginia court in favor of the actor Johnny Depp in the defamation trial against his ex-wife Amber Heard captured world attention for just over seven weeks, reaching the figure of more than 90 billion views, just to mention the TikTok social network. This interest at a global level motivates us to know the communication lessons that the protagonists of Pirates of the Caribbean Y Aquaman.

The trigger object of the lawsuit by Depp was an article in which Amber Heard joined the “Me too”, written by her and published by Washington Post in December 2018. Although she did not mention Depp, whom she had divorced in 2016, she wrote about “her experiences of domestic abuse.” (Every action generates, in most cases, a reaction).

The two protagonists of the trial are actors, accustomed to the lights and public scrutiny. High exposure was unavoidable. (The visibility of a fact is directly proportional to the visibility of its protagonists).

Beyond the jury’s decision, the evolution of public opinion over time was particularly interesting. As the trial progressed, situations arose that moved her sympathies towards him. According to the hashtags related to the case, the perception of Amber Heard evolved from a victim to a victimizer. The difference in labels for him and against her amounted to several billion. (Social networks establish their own verdict, independently of that of the juries. Her opinion is fed with stimuli that they evaluate quickly and directly, even with “fractions” of information).

The debate of the ex-spouses was carried out in two different spheres: the legal and the reputational. In the first, those who pass judgment are unique and limited; in the second, in dispersion and globality, each user becomes a jury. (Influence can be exerted in the media field, but in the legal field arguments of legal value deprive).

Faced with the avalanche of messages on social networks, netizens accessed the formal media for information. It is worth paraphrasing a comment published by the Spanish newspaper ABC this week and issued by Joseph Kahn, the newly appointed director of the New York Times: “In polarization scenarios, the role of information quality is crucial”. (Netizens mature their knowledge and know what can be reliable sources of information).

At one point, Amber Heard fired her communication agency because, according to her, it was unable to position the desired message. Depp, who in previous weeks seemed impossible to avoid public vindictiveness, was receiving the most support. (Communication is powerful and social networks are important channels of amplification to establish positions and position opinions. However, there are forceful situations in which its scope is limited).

In events like the one described, the winner still loses. Being part of a legal dispute means that both parties lose. It will always be better to avoid extreme situations so that polarization does not activate emotions more than reasons. (Communication is more effective in environments that encourage dialogue and negotiation).


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