It’s the experience of the century – sort of. The legal confrontation between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard has captivated the country, and Derek is a bit confused. Why is everyone talking about this miserable celebrity affair? Why are so many people obsessed with demonizing Amber Heard? Producer Devon Manns explains to Derek why she thinks the trial has invaded the news cycle, and Atlantic OceanKaitlyn Tiffany explains why the internet hates Amber, and what it says about the future of Truth, the fandom, and who we are online.
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In the excerpt below, Derek and Atlantic OceanKaitlyn Tiffany discusses comparisons between the Gamergate trial, Amber Heard-Johnny Depp, and social media responses to the trial.
Derek Thompson: Kaitlin, why is the internet so obsessed with this experience?
Kaitlyn Tiffany: Well, I think one thing we have to understand about why so much experimental stuff appears everywhere is that it comes from these groups of people who are really connected and closely related to each other. Therefore, this will be the fan base of Johnny Depp or related groups that sympathize with Johnny Depp fandom. That’s why, I mean, this comparison isn’t drawn straight from the top, but it’s why Gamergate felt inevitable, right? Not because literally everyone on the internet was interested in it, but because it started with these groups that were on a very strong network, and they’re really good at boosting signals and pushing things over and over until you finally get to the point of collective interest, or even just a group pass, so …
Thomson: Can you just do a quick 101 on what Gamergate was? I know this is a really complicated question because there were 1,000 things that more or less predicted the internet age we all live in. But in short, what is Gamergate?
Tiffany: yes. I don’t know, Gamergate, the most important cultural historical event of my life. I actually started when I was in my first year as a journalist for a tech website, so I was very familiar with Gamergate. But basically, Gamergate was in that detail, I guess you could say, a system or network of harassment campaigns that started in the video game business and was aimed at women in that industry, and then spread out to be just a massive influx of misogyny and reactionary politics on the Internet.
Thomson: And a lot of those guys who harassed women, often harassed female journalists at Gamergate were tightly connected within the network of people on Reddit or Twitter or Facebook and Instagram. If you think about how the internet works a bit like a virus, this is an old metaphor that has unfortunately been brought into our lives in the past couple of years; What you’re talking about with well-connected individuals are super spreaders.
In the same way that we understand that with a virus, there are certain people who are more efficient at spreading the virus within an internal environment, and there are certain people online who have really influential friends by virtue of where they are in the network, or by just a simple virtue because they have a lot of followers. They don’t have 50, or 500,000, or a million people closely related to them. If they wanted to push a message saying, “Attack this journalist”, “Attack this journalist”, “Attack this journalist”, “Attack Amber Heard”, they would be very influential because of their reach and the amount of people they are first class connected to. Is this true?
Tiffany: completely. And I think more than that during Gamergate, we now have an internet with very coherent incentive structures where there is an easy tipping point where there is enough interest in a topic that if you start creating content about it, it can be very useful for you.
So, this obviously started with Johnny Depp fans pushing these novels, and then quickly became something the YouTuber in general would be interested in making a video because it would get a million views. I recently wrote about this woman who used to be a public influencer in the Instagram lifestyle, and since then her audience has grown exponentially with coverage of this popular culture, true crime stories that explode overnight. I’ve done a lot of things about Free Britney and Gabby Petito. So, I think the two steps are what really gets him to the point where everyone in your life is like, “Wow, why am I seeing so many things about this experience?”
Thomson: right. So, what you’re saying is that there are two waves of anti-amber hearing. The first wave of anti-Amber is a fan of Johnny Depp. These are the people who have a lot of followers and likes pirates [of the Caribbean]. love i don’t know Edward Scissorhands. They love the whole Johnny Depp canon. And the second you start this experience, they start coming up with a bunch of negative things about Amber Heard, and they get a lot of attention from their communities.
The second wave of anti-Amberism is that all those lifestyle bloggers or YouTube vloggers are seeing, “What’s everyone talking about? What’s the trending topic today? Oh, it seems like different ways of hating Amber Heard are found.” And so, like mercenaries, they get out of the woodwork and start producing content that is likely to attract a lot of clicks, and suddenly this second wave of Amber Heard’s anti-movement is blooming, as it is now this much-consuming monster on the World Wide Web.
Tiffany: Yes exactly. Hence these two groups are able to attract people who have a natural empathy for what they do. So, the easy thing to compare this to would be QAnon. People who like mysteries or like to believe that there are secret machinations behind Hollywood or behind what the press doesn’t tell you will be drawn to. They will be curious about this story. Likewise, I think there is some coverage of men’s rights activists who want to emphasize how women can manipulate and destroy a man. This is a story that fits them, too. It would just be a pile of trash rolling around.
Thomson: Well, this is the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth wave. Yeah. So, let’s move on to the article I wrote for it Atlantic Ocean Called, and we’re already starting to answer that question, “Why does the Internet hate Amber Heard.” First describe the nature of Amber Heard’s hatred of the Internet. Give me examples. What level of disgust are we talking about here?
Tiffany: yes. Total disgust. I think what really drove me home and made me be like, “That’s really weird,” is that I follow a lot of Harry Styles fans on Twitter, and I’m starting to see them tweet, “Listening to Amber Heard is making me sick.” “Amber Heard is the plague.” So that was pretty amazing, because I thought the language was so powerful and unexpected from them, especially because Harry Styles’ fan base considers themselves somewhat progressive.
Then the second thing that I noticed that was really annoying was on TikTok, there were a lot of teens who were acting on Amber Heard’s claims from her testimony about specific instances of her being violently abused. They’ve been acting out on TikTok to make fun of them, and only that way… you can write a thesis paper on some TikToks, because there’s a lot going on. It’s strange to see a teenage girl ask her boyfriend to wear a pirate’s beard to pretend to slap her in the face as a joke.
This excerpt has been slightly edited for clarity.
Host: Derek Thompson
Guest: Kaitlyn Tiffany
Producer: Devon Manz