#FreeBritney: online army rallies behind ‘silenced’ Spears
When two comedians started a podcast about Britney Spears’s quirky Instagram posts, they had no idea it would fuel a global online movement uniting superfans with rights activists in outrage over the star’s legal situation.
Britney’s Gram began in 2017 as a lighthearted podcast in which hosts Tess Barker and Babs Gray dissected the eccentric mix of memes, selfies and dance videos posted on the singer’s account.
“The podcast organically started to transform into more of an investigative podcast,” Barker said, ahead of the latest court hearing over Spears’s conservatorship in Los Angeles on Wednesday.
Other fans-turned-sleuths began obsessively combing the singer’s cryptic, emoji-laden posts for clues about her well-being. Increasingly they worried that she had been “silenced” under the conservatorship, unable to speak out about how unhappy she really was.
“You guys are onto something,” he told Barker and Gray. “What is happening is disturbing to say the least.”
– The power of online fandom –
While local fans have staged protests outside the courthouse, the online campaign spans globally, from Britain to the Philippines. A quarter of #FreeBritney tweets are posted from Brazil, according to Twitter analysis tool Hashtagify.
She sees the #FreeBritney movement as part of a growing trend “where fans have been able to harness social media and get something done”, pointing to followers of K-pop superband BTS — who raised $1 million in a day for the Black Lives Matter movement — as another example.
She set up a #FreeBritney YouTube channel from her home in Chile to help Spanish-speakers follow the latest developments — partly because of the chilling realisation that “what is happening to her could happen to someone like me”.
Disability and civil rights campaigners say Spears’s case highlights how easily vulnerable people can be abused; lawyers have chipped in to help fans understand the finer points of conservatorship legislation.
– Vindication –
Jordan Miller, who runs the fansite BreatheHeavy, was signing posts “Free Britney” as early as 2009.
Fans who saw something sinister in Spears’s legal arrangements were initially met with skepticism. This was not helped by the conspiratorial leanings of some #FreeBritney activists, convinced that each of her Instagram posts was laced with coded messages.
“A happy ending is Britney Spears just getting to enjoy the same liberties that we think everybody should be able to enjoy,” said Barker.