As a false juror in the Depp v. Heard went viral on TikTok

While some social media sleuths were quick to cast doubt on his account — including closely examining the pixelated image of what he claimed was juror paperwork he posted as alleged proof of his service — the eight videos of the man posted to TikTok in last Thursday and Friday generated a lot of attention. . Combined, the posts garnered more than 2 million views and were re-circulated on YouTube and Instagram by content creators at scale, reaching exponentially more people before he deactivated the account Friday night following CNN Business’s attempt to pursue comments. TikTok did not respond to a request for comment.

The Daily Mail circulated his remarks as “exclusive”, while also noting in the headline how little it knew about him: “Man who claims to be JURY in Depp-Heard trial says the moment Amber lied about giving away divorce settlement sank his case and that the jury believed that Johnny was physically abusive – but not the instigator”. The Daily Mail did not respond to a request for comment. Several other media outlets also advanced with the story.

But the man behind the account is not a resident of Virginia, where the trial took place — and he, in fact, did not serve on the jury. In a text message on Sunday, the man admitted that “it was just a joke.”

It’s the latest development of how the defamation trial involving the two celebrities has been leveraged by content creators and influencers on TikTok, which has generated news cycles, revealed insights into user awareness and clarified what content is rewarded on social media. media.

According to Casey Fiesler, assistant professor of information science at the University of Colorado Boulder and TikToker, TikTok tends to promote content that is controversial in some way, or that the platform’s algorithm has determined that people want to see. Because the man pretending to have been a juror in the case said he believed Depp’s story over Heard’s, this reinforced the beliefs of Depp’s supporters.

“People believe the things they want to believe, absolutely,” Fiesler said.

Posting under the account name “searching infinity”, the fake juror stated on a TikTok that he wanted to remain anonymous for now, but would “consider confirming my identity” in the future. Videos of him, in which he did not show his face, largely echoed criticisms and common remarks made by social media creators throughout the trial. He claimed he was “extremely uncomfortable” by Heard’s eye contact with him, so much so that he stopped looking at her as she testified. (Heard’s frequent eye contact with the jury was a major topic of discussion during his time at the booth.) Vasquez tattoo.

“I think she was really sharp and knew what she was doing and did it with purpose and integrity,” @seekinginfinite said in one of the TikTok posts, answering another user’s question about what the jury thought of Vasquez. “All business things aside, she wasn’t so bad on the eyes.”

Importantly, TikToker made it clear that it didn’t believe in Heard, validating a point of view that many spent weeks expressing on the platform: “crazy woman.”

The man is nearly 20 years old and works as a director of photography. He appears to have been in Hawaii during the deliberations and post-verdict, based on Instagram posts. When asked on Friday whether the alleged juror badge posted by the TikToker user could plausibly be legitimate, a spokesperson for the Fairfax County Public Affairs Department said he could not confirm based on the image shared on TikTok. In addition, the spokesperson said he cannot confirm the identities of jurors who deliberated in the trial because they are under secrecy for a year. Jurors are, however, free to speak about their experience before then, should they choose to do so.

Giving their TikTok page some credibility was the fact that it wasn’t an entirely new account created solely for the purpose of claiming to be a judge – there were two previous travel-related posts. But CNN Business was able to track down the previous name and avatar of the TikTok account that linked the man elsewhere online.

“I deleted everything”

Asked if he participated in the trial, he initially texted, “I’m sorry, this is none of your business,” before acknowledging that he was behind the account: “I deleted everything, leave me alone and don’t spread my information, for please. I don’t give you permission to use any of my information in any article,” he said. “There are more important things to write about, like mass shootings, climate change, war, etc.”

It’s unclear what he hoped to accomplish, or why he would even take the time to post about the trial, given the other pressing social issues. Asked what inspired him to post as a judge, he said: “I’m sorry but I won’t be answering any more questions.”

Throughout the trial, the vocal majority on TikTok indicated support for Depp, whose case focused on whether Heard falsely and maliciously accused him of domestic abuse in a 2018 op-ed in The Washington Post. Heard, in turn, sued. Depp — and after six weeks of hearing their cases, the jury finally found that Depp and Heard had defamed each other, with Depp receiving $15 million in damages and Heard only $2 million.

TikTok’s algorithm works in such a way that it has presented an endless rabbit hole of pro-Depp content, with many finding virality by posting Depp-friendly content. By the nature of their algorithm, on TikTok, Fiesler pointed out that “the chances of someone with a few followers going viral is higher. [that on other platforms].”

“My first thought was, ‘Why do people think this is real?'” Fiesler said. “At the same time, there were a lot of comments – clearly just people assuming it was real, and there was certainly nothing to back it up. There was no evidence whatsoever. It seemed to me that this is totally the sort of thing someone would do just for views, for a joke or whatever.”

Fiesler said there is an incentive for creators to post content that people engage with — to get more views, followers and eventual financial rewards if the platform grows big enough.

For those who primarily consume their news via social media, the danger is in believing that what is shown is the whole picture, Fiesler said. “One of the big challenges with disinformation on social media is that it’s very, very difficult to correct,” she added.

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