After a legal filing brought forward new details of abuse allegations made by Angelina Jolie against her ex-husband Brad Pitt, Jolie has become the latest celebrity woman to face online attacks in the form of comparison to actor Amber Heard, according to a review of online videos and comments about Jolie conducted by NBC News.
The accounts targeting Jolie are part of what a domestic violence researcher and an instructor in unconscious bias say is a trend of misogynistic stereotypes aimed at high-profile woman accusers. As previously reported by NBC News, those who post videos attacking Heard are incentivized by the thousands to millions of views they receive on social media and the money that can often follow that.
Heard’s legal battle and trial with her ex-husband, actor Johnny Depp, sparked its own wave of social media content that not only shamed and mocked Heard but included false allegations about her and viral clips from the trial taken out of context. Now, social media creators and audiences are comparing Jolie to Heard, as evidenced by hundreds of comments NBC News found on Twitter, TikTok, and YouTube that questioned her allegations of abuse. Representatives for Jolie and Pitt didn’t respond to NBC News’ requests for comment.
For Jolie, the attacks came after she filed a countersuit against Pitt on Oct. 4, alleging that he committed “physical and emotional abuse of her and their children.” In the countercomplaint, Jolie described a violent 2016 ride on a private plane during which she said “Pitt choked one of the children and struck another in the face.” She said the incident led to her filing for divorce days after the trip.
A representative for Pitt previously provided a statement to NBC News denying the allegations and saying Pitt won’t “own anything he didn’t do” in court.
The civil suit at hand, filed by Pitt in February, is over Jolie’s sale of her part of their French winery. But the abuse allegations made by Jolie in her countercomplaint are what have taken center stage online, where a yearslong culture battle has been waged between #MeToo movement supporters and detractors.
This year, that battle went mainstream, catching the attention of millions of viewers online during the civil trial involving Depp and Heard.
Heard became an internet obsession during the Virginia jury trial, in which she was found liable for defaming Depp after she identified herself as a victim of domestic abuse in a 2018 op-ed in The Washington Post. Heard was ordered to pay $10.3 million in damages. Depp was also found to have defamed Heard and was ordered to pay $2 million in damages.
The decision was celebrated by legions of Depp fans and supporters, while victims’ advocacy organizations warned that it would have a chilling effect on survivors speaking up about abuse. Heard filed her grounds of appeal on Tuesday, citing a lack of “clear and consistent evidence” of actual malice and an “inherently and irreconcilably inconsistent” jury decision that each party had defamed the other.
The Depp v. Heard trial was largely digested on social media, especially on such video platforms as TikTok and YouTube, which hosted creators who raked in views and hundreds of thousands of dollars by pivoting to pro-Depp, anti-Heard content.
“The things we saw, the memes, the clips of the trial, they were overwhelmingly going against Amber Heard. They overwhelmingly portrayed her as this femme fatale, as this untrustworthy individual,” Adrienne Lawrence, a media personality and former litigator, said.
Now, creators and audiences on social media are applying a similar lens to Jolie’s allegations against Pitt, and other women’s allegations online.
NBC News found 12 YouTube channels directly comparing Jolie with Heard in titles and thumbnails. The smallest channel to do so has slightly more than 5,000 subscribers, while the largest, a Spanish language pop culture channel, has more than 3.2 million subscribers. On average, the videos received more than 20,000 views each.
Some of the videos characterized Jolie as a liar in titles and thumbnails, while others asked whether she is using “Amber Heard tactics” or is “the next” Heard. Some of the YouTubers focused on the legal case, suggesting it could be “the next Depp v. Heard.”
One channel, called Just In, has compared Heard and Jolie in the titles of at least five videos, and previously appeared to post a job ad on the freelance website Upwork in August, Vice News reported, seeking a researcher to create content that “goes against Amber Heard and supports Johnny Depp.” NBC News viewed the listing, which has since been removed from Upwork. The channel, which has 269,000 subscribers and more than 350 million views, frequently posts videos with misleading or sensationalized statements.
In the past 24 hours, a video was posted with the title “Gisele Bündchen FINALLY Reveals What Tom Brady Did To Cause The Divorce,” referring to the reported steps the celebrity couple has taken to potentially end their marriage. Despite the title’s suggestion that Bündchen had issued a detailed statement, the only statement the video refers to from Bündchen is an emoji comment she left on a post from someone else about the nature of relationships.
Another video posted in the past day says in the title that it shows Heard smiling when asked about “beating Johnny.” In the actual video clip, Heard smiles after a paparazzi asks what she thinks about people who don’t believe “that Johnny beat you.” The channel did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
According to Lawrence, who teaches courses in unconscious bias, Heard’s treatment online was instructive to many people as to how other women can be treated in public.
“It was already thought that the MeToo movement was unfair to men, unfair to individuals who are being held accountable for their behavior, and having cases like Amber Heard’s and the way it was treated in the public realm of social media and in the media, it creates more avenues to doubt women who come forward against powerful men,” Lawrence said.
Other women labeled “Amber 2.0” range from government workers to relatively unknown assault victims. Former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson was labeled “Amber Heard 2.0,” and the phrase trended on Twitter after she testified about former President Donald Trump’s alleged actions during the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. Hutchinson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Defenders of singer Marilyn Manson, a close friend of Depp’s, have referred to his ex-partner Evan Rachel Wood as “Amber 2.0” or the “sequel” to Heard in YouTube videos, one of which has 100,000 views. In 2021 Wood accused Manson, whose real name is Brian Warner, of rape and abuse throughout their relationship. Manson denies the allegations and is suing Wood for defamation in Los Angeles.
Emma Katz, a U.K. domestic abuse researcher and author of “Coercive Control in Children’s and Mother’s Lives,” said that the way high-profile women are treated when they come forward with accusations of abuse reflects how accusations made by noncelebrity women are received.
“Survivors across our society, no matter whether they’re wealthy or deprived, no matter who they are, they’re still being viewed with a great deal of suspicion,” said Katz. She went on to say that, despite false allegations being rare, victims who make allegations of domestic and sexual violence and abuse are first judged on their credibility rather than the accused being judged on their history and propensity to commit violence.
For example, in Katz’s opinion, Jolie has been judged on her “wild child” reputation from her youth, while Pitt is rarely judged on his willingness to work with now-disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein on two movies, despite knowing about some of Weinstein’s behavior. Pitt said in 2019 that he had confronted Weinstein in 1995 over Weinstein’s treatment of Gwyneth Paltrow, but Pitt continued to work with Weinstein on movies released in 2009 and 2012.
“Although in some ways there’s been some progress in making women more equal in society, this suspicion around women and their credibility and their trustworthiness, these things have never gone away in 2,000 years or more, and they’re still so present in our responses to any high-profile woman who speaks out,” Katz said.