Johnny Depp, Andrew Cuomo, Amber Heard and the Power of Social Media
Have you heard? Yes, you have. Unless you've been living under a rock, then you are very aware of the fact that Johhny Depp was being abused by his ex-wife Amber Heard, not the other way around, as she claimed. You’ll also undoubtedly also be aware of the fact that the governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo has been misbehaving.
Not just once, as claimed by a post written by Lindsey Boylan and published, interestingly enough, on Medium, but it would appear from emerging reports that he’s a serial offender when it comes to overstepping the societal bounds of interacting with his female colleagues.
Ten years ago, Lindsey Boylan would have struggled to make her voice heard, and even if she had chosen to bravely speak out, she would have had to resort to the newspapers, who often, for political and other reasons, would suppress a story. No one likes getting sued and politicians and celebrities alike have deep ties within traditional media. Friends who know friends. Jeffrey Epstein’s name springs to mind.
Travesties of justice have occurred in the past, simply for the sake of censure.
Social media has forever changed that, backed by platforms like Medium, Vocal, and others that allow for the publishing of lengthy exposes which can then be amplified across social media platforms. If you've been a bad boy (or girl) there's no hiding anymore. Even actors and politicians turn to these channels to make themselves heard.
You can now simply bypass news outlets and create your own, and often instant fandom, people who identify with you, believe in you, and want to amplify your cause.
Controversy helps of course and the public profiles of the people involved matter. Trying to notify the world of impending doom isn't going to get you very far, that's old news, but suggest that a certain governor made inappropriate advances and you’d better be ready for the attention.
The destroyer of worlds
I don't think Robert Oppenheimer had social media in mind when he first quoted the Bhagavad Ghita in 1945, but if you had to pick a Marvel character to represent social media, you'd be forced to pick Thanos. In a blink of an eye, the platforms can make or break individuals, companies, and ideas.
They can even topple governments. Their power over society has become absolute and no one is beyond their crowd-based reach. Many would argue that social media has become the ultimate leveler, a universe where your wealth, power, and influence count for nothing.
With one simple tweet, Debbie in Apartment 12, two doors down, can reach millions and sometimes billions.
Many of us have grave concerns over that reach and the influence of companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit. Johnny Depp and Lindsey Boylan would disagree, having successfully presented their cases to the multitude, many of who have been supportive and instrumental in spreading their messages. The recipients of their actions, Cuomo and Heard, would like nothing better than to find the off switch.
What happens though, when the target of focused social media wrath turns out to be innocent?
It's an interesting question. Is there any coming back from social media condemnation and damnation or are you forever consigned to Twitter silence (Hi Donald). Can the corpse be reanimated or has the body been cremated? Again, Depp serves as an example of sorts. Initially blacklisted and publically crucified by social media for supposedly abusing Amber Heard, he was found guilty in the public court of opinion based on the word of a single individual, Heard herself.
It has cost him large sums of money and legal action on two continents to begin restoring his reputation and regaining respectability. An innocent man, ironically as it turns out, the actual victim of abuse, was sold out by Disney and other producers who could not afford to stand their ground in the face of public opinion.
A concerted campaign by his supporters and millions spent on legal action has to a certain extent turned the tables, but Captain Jack Sparrow is no more.
Heard still enjoys widespread acceptance on social media and in the press. People find it difficult to equate the frail-looking blonde with an abusive, husband-beating spouse, possibly in much the same way people are looking at Cuomo and thinking, “No, seriously, he just doesn't look the type”. Looks, as we all know can be deceiving.
The people's court
Do we leave social media to grow and evolve on its own, or do we interfere? Should the platforms be regulated to protect people and ideas from unfounded attacks? It's the ethical question of our generation and there are no simple answers, there is no clear right and wrong, and depending on which foot you find the shoe, there are arguments for and against censorship and regulation.
Take Trump. Banished to the Twitter desert, with no water or camel, Twitter has suggested the ban is permanent. I am no fan but I see a problem with this. It is censorship and the fact that a social media platform can mute the voice of the president of the United States is deeply concerning. It is the ultimate display of their influence and suggests they are “untouchable”.
It also implies that social media’s interpretation of what is acceptable to society, their norms and values, dictate how we evolve.
I want to be able to read Debbie’s tweet. It’s not important what she tweets about, but the fact that she is able to, that she can express her opinion and as long as that opinion isn't encouraging me to burn down a kindergarten or blow up a busload of nuns, then she needs to have her right to free speech protected.
You may not like me, you may not agree with me, but how can we engage in discussion and find common ground if our voices are muted. Perhaps what social media really requires is to be left alone. It may, on its own, develop its own sense of tolerance and respect.
Until then, if I were Andrew Cuomo, I’d be polishing up my resume on Linkedin, Chris is otherwise occupied with the adoption papers.