While the world was still adjusting to the new year, news broke that Robert Pattinson and his fiancee, Kristen Stewart, were locked in a legal battle over which country they should live in after their wedding. With the help of their respective publicists, the couple fired back at their critics and fans with a vengeance, taking to Twitter to defend their right to marry and request changes to their upcoming wedding invitations. Within hours of their first tweet, Robert and Kristen had over a hundred thousand followers. A petition started by a Twitter user called @pamscared to change the wording of the invitations quickly gained over a million signatures. The petitions caught on, with fans petitioning for their favourite celebrities, and the debate raged on social media platforms for weeks. The couple was finally forced to back down and change the wording on their invitations. Is this the beginning of a new trend where fans use social media to fight for the right to be heard?

The Rise in Popularity

It was a pivotal moment when the Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart wedding debacle hit the headlines. For years, Robert had weathered numerous accusations of adultery, substance abuse, and reckless driving. Even so, he had always kept a relatively low profile, shunning the spotlight and enjoying a peaceful family life in Scotland with his wife, Kristen. But all that changed when the hashtag #FreeKStew started trending following the announcement that she would be tying the knot with her Snow White and the Huntsman director, Rupert Sanders. Suddenly, Robert was the most followed celebrity on Twitter, with over a million followers and counting. Several celebrities followed suit, with Taylor Swift, George Takei, and Emma Stone gaining over a million followers thanks to their staunch support for Kristen and the #FreeKStew hashtag. Celebrities rose to the defence of their friend and colleague, with many accusing Robert of a politically motivated attack as a way to get back at Stewart for dating a married man. The petitions started by @pamscared and others called on Twitter to remove Robert’s account, deeming him a “sociopathic stalker” and a “menace to society.” The backlash was so severe that even Stewart’s famous mother, Diane, weighed in, “I don’t know why they’re so upset. He’s a sweetheart. Why don’t they leave him alone?” But Robert didn’t back down, continuing to defend himself against his critics and pleading with Twitter to reinstate his account.

The Backlash

Thanks to a combination of luck and quick thinking, Robert avoided serious injury or legal trouble for his role in the Twitter storm. Had he chosen to fight back, it’s entirely possible that his legal team might have gone down a different path. Luckily for Robert, his accusers were overzealous and poorly advised, motivated more by vindictiveness than by logical argument. In the end, Robert didn’t need to face the music, and neither did Stewart. Both came out the other side with their reputations relatively intact, though their careers might take a bit of a hit. And yet, in spite of all that, Stewart’s and Robert’s strong public support for one another during this time created a bond that will last a lifetime.

Why Is This Important?

It’s easy to get swept away by the theatrics of a celebrity court case, but in reality, this is all just a sideshow. The important thing is that we’re seeing an emerging trend where celebrities are taking to social media to voice their opinions and stand up for their beliefs. Just like the #FreeKStew trend, these types of campaigns exist to champion a specific cause or idea, whether it’s politics, social justice, or environmentalism. Though Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart will hopefully not face legal action for voicing their opinions on social media, the fact that this is even a possibility is chilling. What if Robert or any other celebrity were to face backlash for speaking their mind on social media? Would we as an industry begin to question whether or not we should have an opinion at all? Would we begin to self-censor?

Where Do We Go From Here?

With all the debate surrounding the #FreeKStew and #FreeRPattinson trends, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that these are just two isolated examples. Though the campaigns were started by fans, it’s clear that these are issues that celebrities feel strongly about. And that’s exactly how it should be. These are their opinions and they should have the right to express them. This is how society moves forward, by challenging convention and standing up for what you believe in. Though the backlash might not always be pleasant, we should embrace this newfound freedom and rally behind our favourite celebrities. Whether they’re promoting a film, album, or fashion brand, these are the people that we trust to keep an eye out for us and our best interests.