How Sophie Turner won the battle of public perception in her divorce from Joe Jonas

In the battle of public perception, Sophie Turner appears to have bested Joe Jonas in their highly publicized divorce proceedings, a review of social media activity has found.

A review of viral TikTok and X posts about the situation found that the large majority of online content made about the divorce is outwardly supportive of Turner.

Celebrity women often bear the brunt of negative publicity during high-profile breakups and divorces, but in this case, Turner’s perceived silence in the face of negative narratives about her has benefitted her public perception. She also benefited from being an acclaimed TV actress who had minimal negative attention paid to her before now.

Molly McPherson, a public relations and crisis communications professional, says that the treatment of Turner is providing a model for other celebrities embroiled in their own divorces.

Turner has been supported by prominent figures like feminist writer Roxane Gay and actress Jessica Chastain. She publicly appeared with Taylor Swift — whose recently re-recorded albums include references to her own breakup with Jonas — numerous times since the divorce became public, and Swift has reportedly given Turner and her children use of one of her apartments in New York City while Turner and Jonas are engaged in custody mediation.

McPherson, who has over 430,000 followers on TikTok, said she and other public relations professionals have already learned from Turner’s successful playbook — staying largely silent in the face of media attacks. 

“In my work I’m having conversations where someone will say, ‘Are we going to do the Sophie Turner?’” McPherson said. “I think what we’re going to find is more publicists are going to follow the Sophie Turner playbook, and they are going to look at a response now in a more calculated way that results in them having a firm control of the narrative at all times.” 

A representative for Jonas shared a lengthy statement in response to a request for comment. NBC News previously covered the statement, which in part said that Jonas was not responsible for the negative media narratives about Turner. 

“Joe has already disavowed any and all statements purportedly made on his behalf that were disparaging of Sophie. They were made without his approval and are not consistent with his views,” the statement said in part. “His only concern is the well-being of his children.”

When TMZ first reported on Sept. 6 that Jonas had observed Turner from a Ring camera saying or doing something that led him to file for divorce, online audiences weren’t just surprised. They were suspicious. 

Over the past month, the breakdown of the celebrity couple’s four-year marriage, as well as the ensuing custody battle involving their two children, ages 1 and 3, has played out through social media and tabloids. 

On Sept. 3, TMZ first reported that boy band member Jonas and “Game of Thrones” actress Turner were heading for divorce. Two days later, Jonas filed for divorce and joint custody, and TMZ reported that a source close to Jonas said, “She likes to party, he likes to stay at home.”

According to McPherson and vocal supporters of Turner, it has become obvious to people online when a celebrity uses the media to go on the offensive. Even if a celebrity wasn’t quoted directly, audiences are keen to deduce how publicists or other members of a celebrity’s team can influence media narratives.

“People online are more media literate than they used to be. Because the internet is a place that celebrates and rewards sleuthing, that type of content falls into an algorithm that is rich with stories and shares and posts and comments,” McPherson said. “The perfect counter-offensive to that move was to say nothing. Sophie Turner came out on top reputationally. It backfired spectacularly for Joe Jonas.” 

Soon after TMZ reported that Turner’s partying habits had become an issue for Jonas, internet detectives found older interviews that indicated Turner preferred to stay at home, while Jonas wanted to go out. On Sept. 7, TMZ reported the opposite — that Jonas was “less than supportive” after Turner gave birth to their second child, and that he pushed her to attend public events with him against her wishes. It’s not clear who TMZ’s sources in this case were, or whether they were connected to Turner or Jonas. 

“When you see TMZ articles, it almost feels like that’s the information you can’t trust,” said Ellie Schnitt, a podcaster and internet personality who tweeted on Sept. 6 that “whoever is doing PR for joe jonas needs to be fired expeditiously.”

Schnitt said social media, especially TikTok, helped her learn that when an article says “sources close to” a celebrity, that’s oftentimes a way of referring to a celebrity’s team.

“Clearly, he did something wrong to have to be putting out all this negative stuff,” Schnitt said. “That was the impression I got. Particularly because there was nothing from Sophie or her team.”

McPherson said that what she thought were Jonas’ efforts to plant stories relied on a PR playbook that has become “antiquated” in recent years. Celebrity teams are no longer able to direct public opinion through the media, McPherson added, because social media has eclipsed traditional news in its ability to affect public views. 

“There was a time when denial and diminishing and rebuilding worked. That time was when you could kill a story,” McPherson said. “Now the internet and social media will not allow you to kill a story.”

It was the “art of silence” that Turner mastered in the court of public opinion, McPherson said, and some of McPherson’s own followers can relate. 

“I have so many women in my comments and in my direct messages tell me how much they related to this story. They were married to someone who deployed the same tactics that Joe Jonas deployed, but on that neighborhood level,” McPherson said. “Being silent takes a lot of work and energy to not speak up while you are being publicly smeared.”

It wasn’t just the TMZ stories that affected how audiences viewed Turner and Jonas. The fanbase of Jonas’ boy band, the Jonas Brothers, which debuted in 2005 and rose in fame thanks to Disney channel shows and appearances, is mostly millennial women, Schnitt noted, which might make them more sympathetic to Turner’s situation. 

“When you have a fanbase like the Jonas Brothers have, which is predominantly young women, you’ll be hard-pressed to find them not supportive of another young woman,” Schnitt said.

Schnitt also pointed to Turner’s popularity on “Game of Thrones,” where viewers literally watched her grow up. Turner was 15 when she was cast in the series, and she was 23 when the show ended. McPherson pointed out that “Queen of the North” was trending during the news of Turner’s divorce, while Turner’s character on the show was known for triumphing over the men around her. 

“I know it’s not real and it’s a TV show, but that sticks with you. You see her as a woman who has overcome these odds,” Schnitt said. 

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