Meghan Markle and Prince Harry were target of coordinated hate campaign on social media, report says

The Nation  |  Oct 27, 2021

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have previously complained about misinformation and toxic comments about them being spread on social media, with Markle saying that it had drastically affected her mental health.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have been the target of a coordinated hate campaign on social media, says report conducted by data firm Bot Sentinel. It said that since January 2020, when the couple decided to step down from their senior roles in the royal family, there has been an increase in “disinformation and targeted harassment directed at the couple on social media platforms”, particularly towards Meghan Markle.

Bot Sentinel analysed 114,000 posts on Twitter that featured hashtags and keywords related to the Sussexes and found 83 accounts, which it said were behind 70 percent of the vitriolic content about the royals. The data firm said that combined together, the accounts had 187,000 followers and had a potential reach of 17 million Twitter users.

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According to its report, 55 accounts were identified as “the primary hate accounts” that were responsible for the vast majority of the negative content about Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, while the other 28 accounts mainly “amplified” the primary accounts.

'Nothing Like That Seen Before'

Established in 2018, Bot Sentinel’s main goal is to fight disinformation and targeted harassment. The data firm has previously released reports on high-profile cases such as the online campaign aimed at discrediting the results of the US 2020 presidential race, as well as the abuse campaign directed at players of England’s national team after it lost in the Euro 2020 final.

Christopher Bouzy, CEO of Bot Sentinel said the campaign of hate against Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, particularly against the duchess, is something that he and his team had never seen before. Bouzy said that the accounts are not bots and are run by real people. 

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The entrepreneur stressed that the individuals operating those accounts are tech savvy, as they tried to avoid being flagged and banned by Twitter by posting positive information on other members of the royal family, making accounts private, or posting non-Sussexes content. Such actions made it difficult for Bot Sentinel to detect the accounts. Mr Bouzy stressed that unlike in previous analyses, it is not clear why the individuals are targeting Meghan Markle and Prince Harry.

“There’s no motive. Are these people who hate her? Is it racism? Are they trying to hurt [Harry and Meghan’s] credibility? Your guess is as good as ours”, he said, comparing the case to other hate campaigns, such as the drive to remove actress Amber Heard from the sequel of Aquaman.

A Twitter spokesperson said the company didn’t find any evidence of "widespread coordination, the use of multiple accounts by single people, or other platform manipulation tactics". 

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The spokesperson stressed that Twitter had deleted four of the 55 "primary hate accounts" and said it is "actively investigating the information and accounts referenced in this report — we will take action on accounts that violate the Twitter Rules".

The report by Bot Sentinel appears to corroborate statements made earlier by the Sussexes. Last year, Meghan Markle opened up about her struggle with toxic content on social media. Speaking on the podcast "Teenager Therapy", the Duchess said she “was told” that in 2019 she was “the most trolled person in the entire world – male or female”. The royal did not reveal who told her that or what the information was based on.

She stressed that misinformation and hateful comments about her had had a profound impact on her mental health.

“Now eight months of [2019], I wasn't even visible, she said referring to her maternity leave. But what was able to just be manufactured and churned out. It's almost unsurvivable. That's so big you can’t even think about what that feels like. Because I don't care if you’re 15 or 25 if people are saying things about you that aren't true what that does to your mental and emotional health is so damaging”, she said.

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The Sussexes came under severe criticism in January 2020 after they announced their decision to step down from their senior roles in the royal family and move to North America in order to become financially independent. The move polarised Britain, with critics accusing the couple of greed and of abandoning the family. The situation worsened this year after the couple gave an interview to US talk show host Oprah Winfrey, during which they made several sensational claims against the royal family.

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