In a panel discussion with Wired on Wednesday, Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, blasted social media networks for not taking action against accounts that spread hate and misinformation, and accused the UK media of amplifying “gossip” from bad actors online.
“Perhaps the most troubling part of this is the number of British journalists interacting with and amplifying the hate and the lies, but they regurgitate these lies as truth,” he said.
Prince Harry went on to discuss “Megxit,” a term widely adopted after he and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, announced their decision to step back as senior working royals in 2020, calling the phrase “misogynistic.”
“It was created by a troll, amplified by royal correspondents, and it grew and grew and grew onto mainstream media,” he said. “But it began with a troll.”
The duke made these comments hours after the publication of a new report showing that a number of prominent royal commentators have interacted with and boosted the messages of Twitter accounts dedicated to spreading negative and often hateful content and conspiracy theories about him and his wife.
Twitter analytic service Bot Sentinel released data on Tuesday showing how a number of “royal experts,” who often appear in print and on television programs commenting on the royal family, have amplified accounts dedicated to making anti-Sussex posts. Last month, Bot Sentinel reported that a concentrated set of Twitter users drive 70% of the hate content targeting the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.
Bot Sentinel CEO Christopher Bouzy told BuzzFeed News that he and his team chose to analyze the accounts of 10 royal reporters and commentators based on whom the core anti–Meghan-and-Harry accounts followed.
“It’s our opinion that several of the most well-known and active hate accounts were actively targeting journalists and royal commentators to boost their visibility and amplify their hate campaign, and in some cases, they were successful.”
Specifically, the hate accounts were successful in boosting their own profiles in the case of two of the ten royal experts analyzed in the report. The Bot Sentinel analysis found that seven of the remaining royal experts’ interactions with the anti-Meghan-and-Harry accounts were “inconsequential,” limited to replies and other communications wherein the experts did not use their own accounts to amplify hateful profiles or false narratives. (The analysis found that one out of the ten royal experts had no Twitter interactions with any of the hate accounts.)
Royal commentators are distinct from royal reporters, who are employed by news outlets and, for the most part, participate in the official Palace-coordinated press system known as the royal rota. Instead, royal commentators are hired to appear on television programs and be quoted in print outlets to provide their analysis on royal events. The royal commentator industry includes former Palace employees, such as chefs, butlers, and press secretaries, as well as public relations experts, historians, erstwhile royal biographers, and magazine editors.
“[The UK media have] successfully turned fact-based news into opinion-based gossip with devastating consequences,” Harry said during the Wired panel.
Commentator Richard Fitzwilliams, who according to his biography has given over 1,000 royal-themed TV interviews and appeared on networks such as CNN, BBC, Fox News, Sky News, CTV, and many others, retweeted posts from accounts that spread conspiracy theories about Meghan. The tweets Fitzwilliams shared from those accounts were innocuous and did not include hateful comments.
“I have blocked the accounts mentioned in the report,” Fitzwilliams told BuzzFeed News in an emailed statement. “Twitter urgently needs cleaning up.”
Royal commentator Angela Levin repeatedly interacted with Meghan hate accounts — and on at least one occasion repeated a conspiracy theory that originated from a troll account during a television interview. She regularly retweeted hate accounts — many of which have now been suspended for violating Twitter’s terms of service — amplifying rumors such as ones about Meghan faking her pregnancies and that the Sussexes paid $1.5 million to be on one of the covers for Time magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people of 2021.
Three days after retweeting the rumor that the Sussexes bought their way onto the Time magazine cover, Levin repeated it during an interview with the Israeli channel i24 News.
Levin did not respond to repeated requests for comment from BuzzFeed News.
“When a lie spreads on social media, it’s dangerous, of course it is, but when that same lie is given credibility by journalists or publishers, it’s unethical and, as far as I’m concerned, an abuse of power,” Harry said on Wednesday.