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Image / Agenda / Breaking Stories

Finally, scientific proof that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were subject to an online hate campaign


By Sarah Finnan
28th Oct 2021

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle

Finally, scientific proof that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were subject to an online hate campaign

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were targets of a coordinated online hate campaign according to a new report.

Arguably one of the most well-known couples in the world, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have endured more than their fair share of online abuse. Making their grand exit from the British monarchy in January of last year, their decision to leave came amidst allegations of bullying, racism and family tensions. However, stepping back from their royal duties did little to quell the critics and the duo has been subject to a constant torrent of online abuse pretty much since they first got together. 

Hoping to lift the lid on the accounts responsible for spewing such venom against the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, a new report carried out by Bot Sentinel – a platform that tracks inauthentic Twitter accounts and trolls – confirmed that Harry and Meghan were targets of a coordinated online hate campaign… scientific proof of everything we already knew/suspected.

Publishing their findings by way of a 13-page report, the company first launched their investigation last month by analysing 114,000 tweets related to the former royals. “We used internal tools to categorize tweets based on sentiment and repetitiveness. We manually examined tweets for altered photos, deceptively edited videos, and other content our internal tools couldn’t automatically or accurately analyze,” Bot Sentinel explained in its report. 

Perhaps more interesting still, the report determined that 83 accounts were responsible for approximately 70% of the “original and derivative hate content” targeting Harry and Meghan. So, fewer than 100 accounts (with a combined total following of 187,631 fellow Twitter users) were to blame, it seems. “Our analysis allowed us to isolate 55 single-purpose accounts we identified as the primary hate accounts and 28 secondary hate accounts that mainly amplified the primary accounts,” the report said, with Bot Sentinel estimating that these accounts had a collective unique potential reach of “17 million users”. 

By tracking other elements such as retweets and mentions, Bot Sentinel was also able to establish a distinct link between the accounts with the findings suggesting that they were “brazenly coordinating on the platform”. “At least one account was openly recruiting people to join their hate initiative on Twitter,” it noted. 

If you thought the findings could be softened by shifting the blame onto bots, you’d be sorely mistaken though as Christopher Bouzy, Bot Sentinel’s chief executive, told The Washington Post that most accounts appeared to be generated by humans. “We looked for automated accounts and found very little evidence of bot activity,” he admitted. 

Some tweets used coded racist language while many also directed users to hateful content they had published beyond Twitter, often linking to “private blogs, Instagram accounts, and YouTube channels predominantly focused on Harry and Meghan”.

Just four of the 55 primary accounts highlighted by the report have been suspended by Twitter, with The Washington Post later reporting that the social media network claims to have found no evidence of widespread coordination, the use of multiple accounts by single people or other platform manipulation tactics. A Twitter spokesperson said that the company is “actively investigating the information” though, and “will take action” on accounts found to be in violation of the rules.

On the plus side, the report was only published on Tuesday of this week but Bouzy has already cited a noticeable drop in the amount of content targeting the couple. Speaking to BuzzFeed News about the report, he later confessed that the findings are unlike anything he or his team had seen before. 

“There’s no motive,” he said, comparing the anti-Meghan campaign to other disinformation and harassment campaigns on Twitter such as the #StopTheSteal movement to overturn the results of the 2020 US presidential election or the campaign to remove actor Amber Heard from the upcoming Aquaman sequel as a result of abuse allegations made against her by ex-husband, Johnny Depp. “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. 

“This campaign comes from people who know how to manipulate the algorithms, manipulate Twitter, stay under the wire to avoid detection and suspension. This level of complexity comes from people who know how to do this stuff, who are paid to do this stuff,” he continued. 

Neither Harry, Meghan nor their Archewell Foundation are currently on social media with the couple previously saying that online toxicity was also another major factor in their decision to leave their roles as working royals. Last October, Meghan told Fortune that she hadn’t been on social media in a long time “for [her] own self-preservation”. A couple of months later in a January interview with Fast Company, Harry said that he and Meghan “will revisit social media when it feels right for us – perhaps when we see more meaningful commitments to change or reform”.