How the royal obsession turned to hate
The social media war between fans of Meghan and those who love Kate is getting increasingly unhinged. Guy Kelly charts this disturbing online trend – and a ‘fake baby bump’ conspiracy theory
Last Thursday was much like any other day for Meghan Markle.
In the midst of a busy week, she was up early after a trip to the UK’s National Theatre the day before, and spent the morning on a solo visit to another of her new charity patronages in London. Dressed in a Givenchy all-black ensemble and nude high heels, the former actress 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.
Then she left. It was, by all accounts, another successful engagement carried out by a well-liked, well-dressed member of the royal family. All accounts, that is, based in the real world – online, it’s a different story.
“Like a black widow on the way to a funeral is Meghan Markle. Prince Harry, watch your back,” wrote the Twitter user Fairytalesparklz soon afterwards, under a photograph of the duchess smiling at the event.
They added the hashtag #Megxit, a call-sign to other trolls who 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), whether Kate Middleton would have looked more or less elegant at the same event, and a generally vicious spat between pro and anti-Markle factions, both of whom frequently sounded unhinged. Perhaps the blog sites would be a little more measured in their coverage, you might think.
Alas, no. SkippyIsHereToStay, a Tumblr account largely dedicated to following the royals, posted suggesting Meghan had deliberately placed a packet of Smints in a car door. They were spotted in the background of a photo, prompting conspiracy theories of an advertising placement. The blog then asked, earnestly, whether 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 is having to work overtime to deal with an unstoppable flurry of abuse aimed at both Meghan and Kate online.
According to one source quoted, staff are allegedly spending 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 royal family fandom has turned incredibly murky. And it isn’t just 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.
Many of the comments are racist, the overwhelming majority are sexist, and some of them are utterly mad, especially where Meghan 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.
“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! magazine, which has launched a campaign to help stamp out online hatred aimed at the royal ladies.
“Over the course of last year, with hundreds of thousands of comments, there were two or three that were violent threats.
“You can delete and 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. Meghan’s haters are among the most skilled at this.
#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. That theory is quite rampant, and there are constant attempts to justify it with diagrams, close-ups and reconstructions.
Some groups have even started calling her ‘Lady MegBeth’, or, bizarrely, ‘the alliterate interloper’. On the other side, her defenders are ‘Megulators’ or ‘The Sussex Squad’, taking their name from her official title as the Duchess of Sussex.
They compare her favourably with Kate’s style, confidence and workload – the last one being a frequent criticism of theirs, as they say the mother-of-three averages “20-45 minutes” per official engagement, while her sister-in-law racks up two hours at a time.
It isn’t entirely clear how the situation has reached this point. But with anonymous posting and online abuse rife in general, it has reached an unprecedented level.Many of the trolls work together, it seems. This occurs when a media story emerges that isn’t supportive of a particular faction’s view – for instance, 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, follow only one another, and appear to never sleep, posting at all times of day. The use of fake accounts posting mass abuse in such a manner wouldn’t be new to Twitter: it is notoriously common on the extreme ends of politics, not least under posts relating to Donald Trump.
But quite why somebody would wish to sow and farm hate in the comments sections of coverage of the British royal family is anyone’s guess. Until that question’s answered, it seems, the hate may well go on.
via The Herald