Kate v Meghan social media wars reach rock bot
It’s not about a rivalry between the duchesses' fans any more. It’s a festering cesspit of sexism and racism
Last Thursday was much like any other day for the Duchess of Sussex.
In the midst of a busy week, she was up early after a trip to the National Theatre in London on Wednesday, and spent the morning on a solo visit to another of her new charity patronages, the Association of Commonwealth Universities at King’s College London.
Dressed in a Givenchy all-black ensemble and nude high heels, the Meghan Markle waved to deep, cheering crowds, held her ever-swelling baby bump, met the organisation’s executives and students, and learned about the transformational power of higher education.
And then she left.
It was, by all accounts, another successful engagement carried out by a well-liked, well-dressed, hardworking member of the royal family. All accounts, that is, based in the real world.
“Like a black widow on the way to a funeral is #MeghanMarkle visiting the Association of Commonwealth Universities. #Prince Harry watch your back,” wrote Twitter user “Fairetalesparklz” soon afterwards under a photograph of the duchess smiling at the event.
They added the hashtag #megxit, a call sign to other trolls that unite behind their hatred of the Californian, and in came the rest.
“Bella Wolf”, another user, replied: “With that uneven, kind of raggedy hem I would compare her to a witch. But widow is fine too. She definitely killed Harry’s spirit.” It went on. And on.
Over on Kensington Palace’s official Instagram page, which has more than seven million followers, a similar image from the day had prompted “kelleywynn” to write: “Some days she looks more white and others more black. Must decide which race she wants to play when she wakes up!”
That came amid a fierce argument in the comments about whether the duchess really had a university degree (she does, it’s on the record), whether the Duchess of Cambridge would have looked more or less elegant at the same event (give me strength), and a generally vicious spat between pro- and anti-Markle fans, both of whom frequently sounded vaguely unhinged.
Perhaps the blog sites would be a little more measured in their coverage, you might think. Alas, no.
“SkippyIsHereToStay”, a Tumblr largely dedicated to following the royal family, suggested the duchess had deliberately placed the packet of Smints seen in her car door in one image as an advertising placement.
And then there was the “fake” bump.
There are always posts about the bump. It really was much like any other day.
Last week, Kensington Palace revealed it had to work overtime to deal with an unstoppable flurry of abuse aimed at the duchesses of Sussex and Cambridge online.
According to one source, staff allegedly spend several hours a week trying to manage vile comments aimed at the women and posted on its own Instagram and Twitter accounts, as the once-genteel world of the royal family fanbase has turned incredibly murky.
It isn’t simply Team Kate vs Team Meghan (though that remains a hearty debate), in the way it might have been fun to favour Fergie over Diana, or vice-versa, in the 1980s, either.
Many of the comments are racist, the overwhelming majority are sexist, and some of them are utterly, utterly mad, especially where the Duchess of Sussex is concerned.
“Cheer on this gold-digging fraud who made Harry marry and knock her up as soon as possible. We all will see the great failure of Megsy very soon. She’s playing a game under the eyes of the world, when she will fail, she’ll be done forever,” came one Instagram comment recently.
Another, “Megsy will be gone” had some quite disturbing emojis at the end of it.
“The palace has always monitored comments, but it’s a hugely time-consuming thing. They can block certain words, but some of it is serious and can’t be ignored,” a Kensington Palace source told Hello!, which this week launched a campaign to help stamp out online hatred aimed at the duchesses.
Over the course of last year, with hundreds of thousands of comments, there were two or three that were violent threats.
You can delete, report and block people, and the police have options around particular people. It’s something you have to manage because there’s no other way to control it.
Blocking clearly racist terms is all very well, but it doesn’t account for the dark creativity of trolls in 2019, who are nothing if not imaginative when it comes to their vicious and disturbing abuse.
The Duchess of Sussex’s haters are among the worst.
#Megxit is just one hashtag that unites the most extreme, allowing them to easily find one another and bitch, or share conspiracy theories.
Others include #CharlatanDuchess, #DuchessOfDeceit and #MoonBump – the latter named after a company that makes the kind of fake, silicon pregnancy bumps for stage and screen that many trolls have been accusing Markle of wearing for months. (It’s a rampant theory they “justify” daily, with more and more complex diagrams, close-ups and reconstructions.)
Some groups have even started calling the Duchess “Lady MegBeth”, or, bizarrely, “the alliterate interloper”.
It isn’t entirely clear how the situation has reached this point.
Perhaps it was inevitable that fan groups would assemble behind the young royal women – Meghan’s defenders are called “Megulators” or “The Sussex Squad” – and compare their style, confidence, workload (a frequent criticism levelled at the Duchess of Cambridge, a mother-of-three, is that she averages “20-45 minutes” per engagement, compared to her sister-in-law’s 120), especially given their vastly different backgrounds, but with anonymous posting and online abuse rife in general, it has reached an unprecedented level.
Many of the trolls work together, it seems. When a media story emerges that isn’t supportive of a particular faction’s view, for instance, Fleet Street royal reporters and Kensington Palace communications staff are frequently rounded on in what seem like eerily co-ordinated attacks, something the “Megulators” are just as guilty of as their opposition.
This aspect, in addition to suspicious signs on the accounts themselves – such as when they were established, who else they follow, similarities with other accounts – has even given rise to a suggestion that some trolls may be automated “bots”.
Many of those posting against Markle were established only in the last few months, for instance, follow only one another, and appear to never sleep, posting at all times of day and within seconds of a story publishing.
The use of fake accounts posting mass abuse in such a manner isn’t new to Twitter. It is notoriously common on the extreme ends of politics, not least under posts relating to Donald Trump and Jeremy Corbyn.
But quite why somebody would wish to sow and farm hate in the comments sections of coverage of the British royal family is anybody’s guess.
Until that question is answered, it seems, the hate may well go on.
– © The Sunday Telegraph