Depp vs. Heard: Trial by Toxic Stans, Memes and Hashtags

Dr. Pamela Rutledge
4 min readMay 3, 2022

The courtroom drama of Depp vs Heard is ugly, but nothing compared to the vitriol on social media, as fans pick sides.


  • Depp vs Heard defamation suit has doubled the ratings of Court TV
  • Stans (stalker+fan) have flooded social media with toxicity and threats
  • Social media memes and hashtags simplify and frame complex issues, influencing public opinion
  • The perceptions of the movie-going public will determine the ultimate outcome

The courtroom drama of Johnny Depp and Amber Heard began On April 11, 2022. For almost two months, their tumultuous, extravagant, and mutually-abusive relationship played out across traditional and social media. However ugly the testimonies, they are nothing compared to what is happening on social media. The public testimonies are fueling a much meaner one on social media, where stans (stalker + fan) have taken to social with unbelievable vitriol, ranging from insults to death threats. How much of the social noise will make it into the jury room?

Johnny Depp has always had a lot of enthusiastic fans-even with all the controversy around him. His Instagram account has over 14 million followers. He’s also been in the public eye since he hit it big in 21 Jump Street in 1987. That’s over 30 years of serious stardom where he had the enduring appeal of the archetypal ‘bad boy.’

Strong Parasocial Relationships Can Turn Fans into Stans

Fans often form emotional connections to celebrities, especially ones they like and see frequently. These parasocial relationships are one-sided, but the fan experiences emotional benefits from feeling connected to a celebrity and identity as a member of a fan community. Nothing fires up social identity like a good hashtag war. On TikTok, #justiceforjohnnydepp had nearly 7 billion views. But stans do not make box office receipts.

Amber Heard does not have the benefit of Depp’s professional longevity or depth, although her recent success in Aquaman and the swirling publicity around her relationship with Depp have moved her into the mainstream consciousness. She originally activated support from #MeToo…

Dr. Pamela Rutledge

Using psychology to empower positive media relationships and create content with impact and purpose.