How a 15-year-old gamer struck YouTube gold with Depp v. Heard videos

Jacob, 15, was making YouTube videos about the video game “Elden Ring” when, he said, a video about a different topic — the trial in actor Johnny Depp’s defamation suit against his ex-wife Amber Heard — popped up in the platform’s recommended video feed.

Jacob, who spoke on the condition that his last name be withheld for privacy reasons, said he noticed that the video had millions of views but that the channel it came from had “barely any subscribers.” Jacob’s own videos were getting only a few hundred views at the time, so he decided to try to make a video about the celebrity defamation case, instead.

Within a week, Jacob’s new content — often short compilations of clips from the trial set to royalty-free music — had over 10 million views.

“I saw this Amber Heard trial, and I saw how people were blowing up off it, so I decided, ‘You know what, I can probably try this, too,’” Jacob said. “I just started uploading on it, and it worked.”

Few, if any, other topics have captivated social media like the Depp-Heard trial. Since it started last month, content about the trial has seemed to become unavoidable on YouTube, Instagram, TikTok and other major platforms. That attention has in turn attracted content creators of all stripes who are riding high on a potent combination of viewer interest and algorithmic boosts.

A wide variety of creators, from makeup artists, comedians and true crime podcasters to K-pop fans, musicians and movie reviewers, have pivoted to covering the Depp trial. Six creators, including Jacob, said in interviews that the pivot allowed them to reach audiences of millions on YouTube and TikTok.

All six creators are leaning into a wave of support for Depp and say they believe Depp is a victim of domestic violence (Heard has said she hit Depp in self-defense or in defense of her sister). Two of the creators also said they are victims of domestic violence themselves.

Their content is part of the “Justice for Johnny” social media movement, which has flooded platforms with content that is supportive of Depp and often antagonistic toward Heard. On TikTok, videos with the hashtag #justiceforjohnnydepp have more than 10.7 billion views.

Cyabra, a disinformation monitoring platform, analyzed more than 2,300 Twitter profiles that have talked about the trial and found that 93 percent were in support of Depp.

YouTube and TikTok didn’t respond to questions posed in emails.

“I think a huge part of it is due to the fact that Johnny Depp has a huge fan base already present, considering he’s one of the most famous actors in the world,” said Jas, 21, who runs TikTok and Twitter fandom accounts from Singapore that usually focus on superheroes and K-pop.

Jas, who exchanged direct messages on the condition that her last name be withheld for privacy reasons, said her content about the trial is getting “way more attention” than anything else she posts, despite the sizable presence of K-pop and superhero fans on social media platforms.

Depp is suing Heard for defamation in the US alleging that she falsely stated that she is a victim of domestic violence in a 2018 Washington Post op-ed. Heard is countersuing Depp, also alleging defamation.

Creators said the frenzied environment around the celebrities and the trial has allowed them to rake in millions of views on channels and accounts that had only a handful of viewers just a few weeks ago.

Sophie Helton, 20, a TikTok creator and artist who has made a viral pro-Depp video, said taking Depp’s side is the popular opinion on social media, to the point that those who are pro-Heard will be drowned out by opposition.

“It has been, I would say, about 99 percent positive and in favor of Mr. Depp, and for Ms. Heard I feel like it has just been an outpouring of, honestly, taunting,” Helton said. “The only people who are in support of her, if they comment something about being in support of her, everyone descends on them and tears them apart. If you do support her, you have a lot of people who hate you.”

The formats of the videos can be similar. Most use clips from courtroom exchanges, often highlighting moments that are framed as painting Heard and her team in a negative light. Some are set to music or lightly edited. Others feature commentary on the proceedings.

While some creators are trying to make money from their videos, others have held off, saying they make content about the trial because it’s important to them.

The accusations resonate personally with Haider Ali, 27, another YouTube creator who has pivoted to trial coverage. Ali said he is a victim of domestic violence and has been encouraged by the significant number of people who believe Depp. Before the trial, Ali posted guitar covers on YouTube to an audience of hundreds. Now, his videos about Depp and Heard have millions of views.

“I did not expect to get this huge response from all over the world,” Ali said. “It’s been an overwhelming response from people who are survivors of domestic violence and abuse.”

A few days ago, Ali said, he also became eligible to join YouTube’s Partner Program and start earning money off ads shown on his videos. However, he said, he does not plan to monetize his videos about the trial.

Rather, after the trial ends, Ali said, he will return to posting his music.

“My main goal for posting these videos was not to get fame or to gain any financial freedom or anything like that,” Ali said. “My hope was to basically have a small community where we could talk about what was happening in this trial, but the response has been quite stunning.”

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