The essay offered a glimpse of a potential future media ecosystem where content creators serve as personalities who bring the news to growing numbers of viewers – and, in turn, define the online narrative around major events. . These creators can also bring significant personal benefits to the process. In this new landscape, every major news event becomes an opportunity to amass followers, money and influence. And the Depp-Heard essay showed how the creator-focused news ecosystem can influence public opinion based on platform incentives.
Almost every major news event of the past year has spawned a new generation of online influencers. As the coronavirus began its deadly spread across the country, people turned to big health-focused influencers to make sense of it, often falling into dangerous misinformation. When Russia invaded Ukraine, “war pages” proliferated, their creators earning thousands of dollars selling merchandise and posting OnlyFans ads. And as waves of anti-LGBTQ legislation have flourished in recent months, popular LGBTQ streamers and TikTokers have received particular attention.
When the Depp-Heard lawsuit began to gain traction online in April, internet users around the world recognized a new opportunity to grab and monetize attention. Christopher Orec, a 20-year-old content creator in Los Angeles, posted a dozen videos about the trial to his more than 1.4 million Instagram followers across multiple pages. “Personally, what I gained from it was money as well as exposure thanks to the quality of the videos,” he said.
You can “go from a kid to high school, and if you jump on it early, it can fundamentally change your life,” Orec said. “You can use those views, likes and shares you get from it, to monetize and build your account and make more money out of it, meet more people and network.”
According to Business Insider, content creator Alyte Mazeika earned $5,000 in one week by pivoting content on her YouTube channel to non-stop trial coverage and analysis. ThatUmbrellaGuy, an anonymous YouTuber whose entire channel is dedicated to pro-Depp content, earned as much as $80,000 last month, according to an estimate by social analytics firm Social Blade. (Mazeika and ThatUmbrellaGuy did not respond to requests for comment.) Orec said he earned more than $5,400 last month in Instagram Reels bonus payouts.
When major creators saw the attention relative unknowns were receiving, many pivoted their content entirely to cover the lawsuit. Makeup artists, meme accounts, comedians, lifestyle influencers, K-pop fans, movie critics, true crime podcasters, real estate influencers — suddenly the Depp lawsuit was their main focus.
Content produced by social media influencers was heavily biased in favor of Depp, with economic biases playing a significant role. “Johnny’s content did a lot better,” said Rowan Winch, a 17-year-old content creator. “When people post stuff trying to defend Amber Heard, they lose followers. A lot of big content creators probably don’t even care that much – they just care about the views it gets.
Depp’s own team recognized the phenomenon at hand and sought to capitalize on it. Last month, Adam Waldman, who represented Depp against Heard abuse allegations in 2016, testified that he ‘slipped’ into the DMs of major influencers to provide information about the case and promote the story. idea that Depp was innocent. He said he had numerous phone calls with several friendly YouTubers and content creators whom he referred to as “internet journalists”. “I communicate with internet journalists exactly the same way I would communicate with mainstream media: I will inform them,” he said.
Online, Johnny Depp fans are bashing anyone who expresses support for his ex-wife Amber Heard.
While the mainstream media prioritized stories like the leaked Supreme Court draft opinion on abortion, the war in Ukraine, and the mass shootings in Buffalo and Texas, it left an opening for online coverage to set the tone for the Depp-Heard trial. “There’s a seriousness that legacy media takes when covering these things,” said Aaron Saltzman, a strategist who works with content creators and NFT artists. “Content creators can rely on Internet culture. They can be silly and rude and rude. It feels a lot more authentic to a lot of people and I think it really resonates.
But while people who consume their news from content creators often believe they are more trusted than mainstream media, “creators are not beholden to any editorial standards or journalistic standards,” said Kat Tenbarge, NBC News reporter covering the trial. tweeted. “In fact, they are incentivized to break them, adapt to the narrative and make money.” The media and influencers on the political right seized on the cultural moment to make Depp a cause celebre, using their coverage to turn the trial into a referendum on #MeToo.
As more people turn to creators online for information, misinformation is growing and the trial could provide a playbook for anyone looking to leverage the creator economy for their own gain. . Joe Federer, author of ‘The Hidden Psychology of Social Networks’, said, “It’s easy to see how manipulating a TikTok algorithm, or planting the right information with the right influencers, causes real misunderstanding about important issues. There’s a huge difference between telling a story and articulating an informed point of view about it, and following a trending topic.”
The popularity of the online essay has only encouraged influencers to lean more into breaking news and compete more directly with traditional news outlets for coverage.
Thursday morning, less than 24 hours after the verdict, many creators were already looking for the next big story. Marlon McLeod, 20, a content creator who runs a large Instagram account with 3 million followers dedicated to posting videos of attractive men, said he plans to pivot his page to cover more news . A video he posted recently about the trial has been viewed more than 34 million times.
“I want to cover more news and big things happening around the world,” he said. “Before [the trial], my account was intended to post random videos of men, but as my account grows, I want to delve more into these events by reporting them. Kind of like news outlets.