For the past Johnny Depp was on TikTok for nine weeks. And TikTok was Johnny Depp. Now, after just one post thanking his fandom, his new account has over 12 million followers. If the defamation lawsuit the actor filed against ex-wife Amber Heard turned Depp into a meme, then his appearance on the platform that turned him from Hollywood celebrity to social media influencer is the inevitable end of a world in which everything is fine.
The characters played by the actor in the first place Pirates of the Caribbean Captain Jack Sparrow used to become memes because of his outlandishness, but now the actor himself has entered the world of his incredible characters. “Depp’s joining TikTok is interesting because I’m not sure it would have happened before the trial, or if the platform hadn’t had such an impact on content creation and public opinion,” says Rebecca Williams, assistant professor of media audiences and public opinions. culture at the University of South Wales.
What’s more, Depp’s first TikTok post is a poignant video of him performing and driving past his adoring fans at the conclusion of a trial in which a jury found Heard guilty of libel for defamation in 2018. Washington Post an article in which she claimed to be “a public figure representing domestic violence” (she did not name Depp) is something of a thank you. “There’s an obvious appeal here to the sense of connection and recognition of the fans,” says Williams. This feeling was reinforced by the TikTok algorithm, which increasingly pushed Depp’s content into channels, creating a cycle that attracted more people and demanded even more content.
This is what Tom Divon, a social media, communications and culture specialist at the Hebrew University in Israel, calls “shared pathways of intergenerational memetic communication,” meaning not wanting to feel left out in the watercooler moment. In 2022, the easiest way to get attention for a cooler moment is to create content… lots of content. Some videos imposed what they heard and Depp’s inner thoughts could be during the trial, while others compared the behavior of everyone in the courtroom lay the blame.
Since the trial began in mid-April, TikTok has become the 21st century version Court TV, and Depp became a hero to his followers. Footage from the trial and reactions to its twists and turns have taken over TikTok. At the end of April, videos using the hashtag #johnnydepp gained 11.3 billion views, and #justiceforjohnnydepp another 5.6 billion. Now it’s closer to 34.1 billion and 20.4 billion. According to TikTok’s own hashtag analytics tool, hashtags have proven to be “extremely popular” with #johnnydepp trending for the past 71 days and #justiceforjohnnydepp for 58 days.
The popularity of the content created a momentum of its own, with users creating videos to satisfy an almost insatiable interest in the challenge. There were cuts of key points of testimony collected by users acting as talking heads about the course of the trial, and conspiracy theories on whether Heard’s legal representative was a Depp fan after he allegedly showed up at the premiere of Depp’s 2013 film, The lone ranger. One TikTok user even claimed without evidencebe one of the jurors discussing the case to capitalize on the attention.
TikTok’s algorithm turned the lawsuit into a social media circus, where ill-informed legal commentary side by side with outright fabrications of the events of the court case – all of which pushed millions of users to Finely honed TikTok algorithmwhether whether they wanted it or not. TikTok declined to comment on this story.
The ubiquity of Depp-related content on TikTok, which has become a major engine of cultural discussion, made it inevitable that Depp would join the app. “Even if the verdict was different, the sentiment shaped by his TikTok tribe had a big impact,” Divon says. The memes became fact, and the horrifying details of what Depp allegedly said and did Heard were smoothed over by the social media frenzy.
Depp’s fandom helped reshape reality in a way that flattered him, often presenting Depp as a saint and Heard as an outcast. Given social media’s ability to circumvent and even override traditional media coverage, it makes sense that Depp would want to join the platform. Williams sees this as a continuation of the reports Depp received in the week following the verdict. performances in bars as well as concerts secured his reputation as a man of the people. “His public appearances in the UK have been portrayed as approachable and ‘normal’ even as crowds of fans wait outside hotels and concert venues to greet him,” she says. “The TikTok movement can be seen as part of the same strategy: to rehabilitate someone through social media by making them grateful for the support of the fans, for being available through this type of platform.”
This is hinted at by Depp’s comment on his first and so far only TikTok video. “We walked the same path together,” he wrote. “We did the right thing together, and it’s all because you care. And now we will all move forward together.” But while the Depp lawsuit has created a huge new fandom, it remains to be seen if Depp himself has any long-term interest in walking among them. “Is this just an easy way to reach out to fans in a space that was already widely supportive of Depp during the trial?” Williams asks. “Or does this mark the beginning of a new mode of constant engagement with these fans?”
The video may offer clues as to whether Depp will go all-in on TikTok or just use it as a short-term giveaway to his most ardent fans. Much of Depp’s video focuses not on the fans, but on the star himself, as he waves from a moving car to the masses gathered outside the Virginia courtroom where his trial took place. “This was done by a boomer who obviously didn’t speak the language of the platform,” Divon says. “I guess when you have followers rushing to your profile without posting a single video, you can express gratitude in a way that only narcissistic superstars can.”
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