How the #freebritney movement is using social media to enact real change

Kelsey Formost

28 Jun 2021 · 2 min read

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On Wednesday June 23rd, Britney Spears made a direct statement to the court of Los Angeles asking that the 13-year conservatorship over her person and estate be ended. Since her testimony was made public, social and traditional media has been flooded with information not just about Spears’ conservatorship, but about conservatorships in general.

Last week, the streets outside the Los Angeles courthouse were flooded with supporters of the “Free Britney” movement, even though Spears was calling into the proceedings virtually. There were also hundreds of similar gatherings with thousands of fans participating around the country and millions of social media posts advocating for the removal of the conservatorship.

This moment is a culmination of a movement that has been steadily gaining steam over the past few years on and off social media; from a few fans that mobilized to start the #freebritney movement in 2018, to press time today where #freebritney has surpassed 1.1 Billion views of TikTok.

So how did this conservatorship get passed in the first place? It started in January 2008 when Jamie Spears, Britney’s father, filed for a temporary conservatorship over Britne’s person and finances during a period when she was hospitalized. Despite being a multi-platinum artist and being made to perform in some of history’s biggest tours and residencies over the subsequent thirteen years, that conservatorship is still in place today.

What’s truly staggering about the #freebritney movement is watching how social media has helped mobilize like-minded individuals regardless of background or station to action. From the disturbingly prescient viral “leave Britney alone” video made by Cris Croker in 2007, to the New York Times’ shocking 2020 “Framing Britney Spears” documentary, this case has become a catalyst for mental health awareness and, hopefully, systematic change.

A conservatorship is usually reserved for elderly or severely incapacitated persons who are unable to take care of themselves or their money. A conservatorship allows a designated guardian or "conservator" to make decisions for the incapacitated person and, hopefully, act in their best interests. And yet this case shines a light on the intense complexities of taking away someone’s free will.

In a petition for a raise in salary for running Britney's estate, Spears' former lawyer Andrew Wallet stated, "the next several years promise to be very lucrative for the conservatorship's estate...this conservatorship should be viewed more as a hybrid business model." It begs the question, is a conservatorship meant to protect someone who is incapable of making their own decisions, or is it, as Mr. Wallet says, a "business model"?

This public outcry in support of Britney Spears’ wishes to be free of her conservatorship and the virality of the movement has moved many to share their own personal stories of abuse, PTSD, mental health struggles, and more.

Britney’s case brought intense scrutiny to the conservatorship system as a whole. Flaws in her case are revealing flaws in the larger picture, including significant potential for a conflict of interest between conservators and conservatees. It’s worth noting that this case has been ongoing since 2008 and yet only with the arrival of increased social media activity since 2018 has there been any real movement.

Only now when there is so much publicity on and off social media do we see people in the streets chanting, “end conservatorship abuse”.

At the best of times, social media can act as a bringer of awareness and an enabler of change. The #freebritney movement provides people with an undeniable example of the power of social media to catalyze real change.

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