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The Daily Tar Heel

Column: How technology trapped Britney

Behind the scenes during the shoot for the “Lucky” music video in 2000, a moment captured by Britney Spears’ assistant and friend Felicia Culotta. (Photo courtesy of FX/TNS)

Writing about how technology can be mobilized for good has been my shtick in the past. 

But I watched The New York Times' “Framing Britney Spears” documentary recently, and it made me think of the ways technology has been used to hurt and disenfranchise so many people, especially those in underrepresented groups.

Back in the early 2000s, celebrity magazines like Us Weekly, People Magazine and OK! Weekly marketed Spears' personal challenges as salacious fuel for a sex-crazed and power-hungry society. Exaggerated narratives about her public breakdowns, abilities as a mother, sexuality and mental health were wolfed down by an audience starving for her downfall.

The tabloids — and other forms of media used to frame them — enabled us to obsess over Spears since her teenage years, with coverage growing in intensity the older she got. The documentary depicts how our promulgation of her image fueled mass sales and revenue throughout the U.S. 

Her mental health and even personal liberties began to disappear — witnessed by those with a screen in front of their faces and proliferated by those with publishing power. 

The spread of misinformation, and the technology that enables it, has contributed to the chaotic spiraling of a young woman whose entire life has been picked apart and devoured by us. 

The rise of social media has seen Spears' return to the public eye, this time, allegedly, with more control. In a recent Instagram post, she wrote, “I’m trying to learn how to use technology in this technology driven generation .... but to be totally honest with you I can’t stand it !!!”

This caption says enough, underscoring the mammoth power of online technology and the way it continues to, even in its evolution, cut apart and cripple women in the limelight.

In today’s world, we might purchase fewer magazine and newspaper prints. But the technology that pummeled them into our brains is alive and stronger than ever, bringing us a variety of information on every online platform imaginable. It was sad to watch the trauma Spears had to endure, her life treated as a product for our entertainment. 

It’s even sadder that with our smartphones, our Twitter accounts and our nice, flatscreen TVs, we hold more power than Spears to control her own narrative. The same applies to many other women in public roles.

It’s important for us to remember that technology is not always meant or used for good. We must emphasize the reality that technology can, in fact, be flashed in front of our faces with the aim of entrapping, commodifying and exploiting lives.

A smartphone is not all about which filter frames our photos the best. It holds the power to both communicate and to consume, to simultaneously build up and tear down. 

It can ravage the brand and autonomy of a woman — no matter her success — dragging along with it the respect and humanity of all individuals in her place.

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