#FreeBritney: Why is a pop star with 128 million followers on social media relying on a hashtag for her freedom?
For 13 years, Britney Spears hasn’t been in control of her own life. The singer was placed under a temporary conservatorship in February 2008, which continues to this day.
The #FreeBritney movement was started by long-time fans, who utilise social media to bring awareness to the horrors of conservatorships, and to advocate for the pop star’s freedom.
Princess of Pop: a reign that spans to a time before social media existed
Britney was placed under a legal guardianship in an age before social media, before cancel culture, and in a time of extreme stigma surrounding mental illness.
With only the paparazzi to contend with, the decisions made in 2008 on Britney’s behalf were sold as a narrative of a ‘mental breakdown’ to the tabloids. The stigma surrounding mental illness was still in full force, with paparazzi sharing harrowing images of celebrities, a total exploitation of privacy, just to sell a photo. The world was hungry for more images – the more distressing, the better.
Looking at the situation through a 2021 lens, the young singer was likely struggling with postnatal depression and exhaustion due to working in Hollywood from such a young age. With social media today, we are our own photographers, detectives, journalists and can communicate globally in seconds. We don’t leave it up to the tabloids to decipher a pop star’s narrative – we investigate it for ourselves.
So, it begs the question, would Britney be placed under the same constraints today?
What exactly is a conservatorship?
A conservatorship is when a judge appoints someone to care for another adult, who is ruled unfit to care for themselves or their money. In Britney’s case, Britney is considered the “conservatee” and her father, Jamie, the “conservator.”
Britney was placed under this constraint following her painful, public breakdown in 2008. Following a period of unpredictable behaviour, we’ve all seen the photos of her shaving her head and attacking paparazzi with an umbrella, Spears was admitted to a psychiatric hospital for a mental health evaluation.
Shortly afterwards Britney’s father placed her under this “temporary” conservatorship, alluding to the fact that his daughter was unable to properly care for herself.
Though the reputation of her infamous 2007 ‘breakdown’ has followed her ever since, and despite being ruled as incapable of taking care of herself, Britney’s career never wavered. She continued to make music and release albums, go on global tours, perform in a Las Vegas residency, and launch her successful perfume.
Despite these achievements and career milestones, in 2021 – 13 years later – this “temporary” conservatorship is still in place.
Where did #FreeBritney come from?
Britney’s fans have continually expressed their sheer horror of seeing the pop star continue to be under a conservatorship at almost 40 years old.
As social media platforms have become increasingly popular, there has always been a question of whether Britney is actually the person behind her posts. Up until recently, fans have wondered if her posts are all a part of the conservatorship, using her platform to keep up an illusion. Remember, even salt looks like sugar on social media.
Britney’s Gram – originally a light-hearted podcast discussing each of Britney’s Instagram posts, has since become a platform advocating for her freedom.
The freedom movement was sparked when Spears’ Las Vegas residency was cancelled in January 2019, very soon after it was announced. In the caption announcing the news, Spears’ noted that residency would be postponed so she could focus on her family after news of her father’s illness.
On Instagram, Spears then went dark, aside from one post celebrating the 20th anniversary of her debut album. Nor was she seen in public. Following a rare paparazzi photo of the pop princess driving her own car – an alarming red flag as Spears is not allowed to drive under the rules of her conservatorship, the tabloid-popular star had suddenly vanished from the paparazzi’s watchful eyes.
Fortunately for Britney, because she was hidden away from the media and people are now used to accessing things in an instant, her lack of social media presence gained more traction about her story than ever.
The podcasters have commented: “Because we were a podcast about her Instagram, we just naturally started digging more since we didn’t have any Instagram posts to talk about”
“As time went on, it became more bizarre that she wasn’t appearing anywhere because Britney Spears is someone the paparazzi clearly likes to photograph.”
And thus began #FreeBritney. Since April 2019, Britney Spears’ fans have been flooding social media with the hashtag #FreeBritney in the search of answers about Britney’s whereabouts, her freedom, and the truth behind her legal guardianship.
The power of social media
#FreeBritney has been used 1.7 billion times on video social media platform TikTok, and almost half a million times on Instagram. The hashtag produces 229,000,000 google searches.
Fans have since gone out to the streets and protested on Britney’s behalf, demanding an end to her conservatorship, with signs, t-shirts, flags, not to mention entire social media accounts, dedicated to the #FreeBritney movement.
Word of the #FreeBritney movement has spread to other celebrities. They have begun using their platform: which is a space to advocate for world hunger, illness awareness, global warming…. to support #FreeBritney.
This includes long-forgotten acquaintances Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake who were integral to Britney’s early career. They have a combined Twitter following of almost 80 million. Other celebrities who have reached out in support include Khloe Kardashian, Cher, Madonna and Mariah Carey, who have a combined Twitter following of 57.6 million.
A hashtag, or a rights movement?
Potentially as a result of the awareness raised by #FreeBritney, legal action is finally being taken to benefit Spears. Strides forward are being made, with the #FreeBritney movement updating fans about the proceedings, with some lawyers are dedicating social media accounts to explain the legalities.
On June 23 2021, all eyes were on Britney Spears as she personally spoke in court about her 13-year conservatorship for the first time, with the #FreeBritney movement streaming the audio on an Instagram Live. On this day alone, #FreeBritney was referenced 220,000 times alone on Twitter.
In the 24-minute hearing, the star opened up about the legal agreement she’s been in since 2008, proving the movement’s worst fears correct, and asking for her freedom. “This conservatorship is doing me way more harm than good. I deserve to have a life.” Britney exclaimed.
A long time coming
After years of speculating, advocating and protesting, on the 10th August 2021, a Free Britney flag finally appeared on Britney’s Instagram feed.
It turns out that social media has the power to drive real change, and sometimes it’s possible to cancel the bad guys.