Britney Spears wants people to be kinder to one another. More specifically, she wants them to be kinder to her, after alleging that she's being bullied on Instagram for posting "the same 15 pictures with the same red background and wearing the same white bathing suit".
Last week she took to the social media site to insist that she's never owned a white swimsuit before, and "simply liked the red background", adding five exclamation marks for emphasis. She was equally upset that some people were "offended" by her posts about horses. "Reading all of the mean comments really hurts my feelings," the singer went on to say. "You really shouldn't be saying all of these mean things to someone you don't even know… this goes for bullying anyone really."
That last bit was followed by six exclamation marks.
It's hard to remember in all this that Britney Spears is 38 years old, and a mother of two children. Even taking into account the extended adolescence into which child stars such as her can become trapped, the manner in which the Hit Me Baby One More Time singer addressed this alleged online bullying does seem a little childlike. Or is it bullying to say that as well?
The rules of what is and is not acceptable online are still being negotiated, and it's hard to know whether to mock or sympathise. The recent suicide of Love Island presenter Caroline Flack has exposed the fragility of celebrities, and there's no reason to doubt that Britney Spears's pain is genuine, given her history of personal struggle with mental illness; but does that mean they can't be ridiculed when they're being, well, ridiculous?
If so, that may be a tall order in a social media age, when practically everyone in the world has access to devices that allow them to broadcast their feelings and opinions to everyone else on the planet.
The implications of this opening up of the means of communication have yet to be mapped. On one level, it's a democratic revolution, creating a playing field of digital equality which upsets the traditional relationship between the famous and the anonymous. On the other hand, it's coarsened discourse in ways that feel unhealthy.
This isn't the first time that Britney has felt the need to respond to online trolls, after all. In December, she also hit back at "mean comments" and suggested that those who didn't like certain posts should just "keep it to yourself and unfollow that person". Wise advice.
There's still an intrinsic imbalance here, though. Britney Spears has 23 million followers on Instagram. Other celebrities have many more than that. The most popular celebrity on the video and message sharing site is footballer Cristiano Ronaldo, with over 208 million followers.
The users posting unkind comments in an attempt to hurt the feelings of the famous may only have dozens of followers, if they're lucky, and more likely far fewer. Most of the time they're just shouting into a void, and it may be better, ultimately, to let them get on with it. It's impossible to know what's going on in their own personal lives that make them behave in this way.
They may have come through as many trials and tribulations as the star herself, even if their pain is less well-documented. Calling them trolls just because they don't have many followers suggests that the validity of someone's opinion depends on the size of the digital megaphone with which they can broadcast it. It could even be that letting off steam to wealthy and privileged celebrities whose lives appear on the surface much more glamorous and desirable than their own, allows them momentarily to feel that they're evening up the score. Why not let them have that tiny release?
Many of the quoted comments about Britney's swimsuit weren't even that bad. Not all criticism should be filed under cyber bullying. A bit of slagging can even be healthy in moderation, puncturing the egos of the high and mighty.
The problem with this approach, admittedly, is that the accumulated build up of all those micro-aggressions can end up having a disproportionate effect on the target. That's what the tragedy of Caroline Flack's death ought to have taught people.
Individual comments may not be very serious in themselves, but, when taken together, they can quickly become part of a bigger wave of negativity that overwhelms the person at whom they're aimed. That relies, though, on asking people to self-regulate their own worst impulses, which is probably unrealistic given that they may be battling personal demons of their own.
Hard as it is for those on the receiving end, it could be that the price of having that huge social media platform is accepting that every Tom, Dick and Harry gets to comment on the most intimate aspects of your life, including how you look.
A quick glance at Britney Spears's Instagram account finds numerous pictures of the star striking a pose for the camera in seductive outfits, or doing yoga, or entwined round her equally semi-clothed boyfriend. These pictures demand attention, and get it, but that attention won't always be positive.
The only real solution might be to take a step back from seeking the public gaze in the first place, as the Hollywood stars did of old.
That's harder to achieve in the age of tabloid news, but it's not impossible. Despite being one of the biggest selling female artists of her era, soul singer Sade rarely gives interviews or does anything to interest the gossip pages, and isn't even on Twitter or Instagram, though she insists that she's "not shy or reclusive, I just spend my time with people rather than journalists".
Taking a step back from the limelight seems to work for her. The suspicion has to be that many celebrities don't do the same because they don't really want to be left alone, or let their work speak for itself.
Spears's own private life is far better known these days than her music. Once you become the thing that you're selling in that way, it's difficult to maintain boundaries.
These days, it's increasingly difficult to listen to certain singers' albums, or watch certain actors' films, or read certain writers' books, without being constantly reminded of their real-life selves, as epitomised by their chattering social and mainstream media profiles. They're endlessly commenting on every controversy in the news headlines, or updating fans on what they had for lunch or where they'll be that weekend, and with whom. A vital portion of the mystery that made them interesting in the first place has inevitably been lost.
Ideally, it should be possible to separate the artist and the work, but that's asking a lot when they won't stop sharing every single thought that passes through their heads. You can't help respecting them that little bit less for it.
Their fame shouldn't mean that open season is declared on emotionally vulnerable celebrities, but is it any wonder if the hypocritical invasion of their own privacy for money sometimes results in some less than admiring pushback?
It still tends to dwarfed by the outpourings of support which such comments prompt from fans, many of whom then subject so-called trolls to the same bullying treatment.
Virtue-signalling celebrities are not averse to organising pile ons against those who offend their liberal sensibilities either. These physicians should heal themselves first.
"I love you all... stay safe... and be nice", Britney Spears urged on Instagram last week, but that message ought to go for those having a pop at her detractors as well. Making the internet a kinder place is everyone's responsibility.