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Influencers leached onto Depp vs. Heard for engagement

Illustration by Kate Walker

Influencers leached onto Depp vs. Heard for engagement


The Future. TikTok, Twitch, Instagram, and YouTube influencers jumped on the Depp vs. Heard case, offering a mix of breakdowns, analysis, and memes to boost engagement and take advantage of an algorithm propping up the content. The shift in content has been a financial boon for creators. Even though the ethics are dubious, the success may lead to more influencers jumping into the “breaking news” space — as has already happened with Ukraine and the Supreme Court leak — to grow their followings.

Court of opinion
The Johnny Depp-Amber Heard trial was the first major celebrity-driven court case of the social-media era… and it may have shown the world what they can expect from the internet, reports The Washington Post.

  • YouTuber Alyte Mazeika pivoted from her usual content to talking about the trial, netting her $5,000 in one week.
  • Another YouTuber, ThatUmbrellaGuy, turned his channel into a pro-Depp sounding board — a tactic that earned him a whopping $80,000 last month.
  • Instagrammer Christopher Orec, who has more than 1.4 million followers, walked away with $5,400 in bonus payments from content created for Reels.

Influencing optics
No matter your opinion on the case, most influencers seemingly chose a pro-Depp position because it played better with their audience — which led to higher revenue. Content creator Rowan Winch said, “Johnny content performed a lot better… A lot of major content creators probably don’t even care about it that much — they just care about the views that it gets.”

And that’s a phenomenon that Depp’s lawyer took advantage of, admitting that he had phone calls with several “Internet journalists” to inform them about the case. That sent a shiver down the spine of many journalists, including NBC News reporter Kat Tebarge, who warned that instead of being held to typical journalistic standards, influencers are “incentivized to break them, to fit the narrative and make money.”

That grassroots, financially-driven bias could shift the public perception of high-profile cases moving forward.

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