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20th Jan 2022

What’s really happening with the online hate campaign against Meghan Markle?

Tara Trevaskis Hoskin

It has been proven that there is a dedicated online hate campaign against Meghan Markle, and it’s made some people lots of money. 

The level of online abuse that Meghan received when she began dating Prince Harry was astronomical and it continues to this day. From racial abuse, to comments about her looks and straight up death threats, the American actress has been relentlessly bullied.

Harry and Meghan both left social media following their departure from the royal family after it had detrimental effects on their mental health. Meghan later described herself as “the most trolled person in the world” in 2019.

The couple both cited the level of hate they received on social media as a major factor in their decision to step back from their royal duties. Even after they officially stepped down the hate and trolling continued with misogynistic terms like “Megxit” being used widely. 

A report released by Bot Sentinel, a Twitter analytics platform that detects troll bots, in October found that 70% of hate posts about Meghan came from just 83 accounts. 

Their latest report, released this week, found that these accounts have managed to monetize their hateful speech with new YouTube accounts that went into detail about conspiracy theories and their resentment for the pair. The total combined amount came to over $400,000 with over 70 million combined views on the channels.

Christopher Bouzy, CEO of Bot Sentinel told Buzzfeed News that this hate campaign is unlike any other they have encountered before. 

“Are these people who hate her? Is it racism? Are they trying to hurt their credibility? Your guess is as good as ours,” he said.

Bot Sentinel is an independent and crowdfunded organisation that has also investigated issues like the spread of Covid-19 disinformation and the attempts to discredit Joe Biden’s American presidential win in 2020. 

The new report shows that the Twitter accounts that target Meghan Markle are highly advanced and know how to trick algorithms to ensure they can continue to spread hate. 

“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,” Bouzy said. 

According to the report, the users of these accounts often put “parody” in their bio to avoid being taken down, and also tweet positive things about other royal family members in between their hatred to filter out detection from Twitter. 

Roughly 114,000 hate tweets were analysed by Bot Sentinel which included racism, death threats to Markle, and claims that she was faking her pregnancy. Bouzy noted that the content of these tweets was notably more “personal” than that of hate accounts they’d encountered before. 

It is estimated that the tweets had a reach of up to 17 million, despite originating from 55 primary accounts and an additional 28 secondary accounts. 

A secondary report from Bot Sentinel found that these accounts interacted massively with the media, and this had an impact on news coverage around the Duke and Duchess of Sussex leaving their royal duties.  

Tabloids also had a big role to play in fuelling the hate that was spread about Meghan and she has since called this out. 

The Mail on Sunday was forced to pay Meghan £1 million in damages after publishing a private letter she wrote to her father.

What’s more is that at the start of their relationship, Harry called the press out for the racial overtones that were used in reporting around his relationship and said that even then he feared for Meghan’s safety. 

Bot Sentinel has called for Twitter to ban single-use hate accounts that are used to direct hate at one person. According to the report these types of accounts can span much deeper into other issues in society.

“Additionally, without new policies to address single-purpose hate accounts and problematic YouTube channels, we could very well see an escalation in incendiary rhetoric that will lead to violence, as we have seen with QAnon, White Supremacists, and other similar hate groups,” they said. 

A Twitter spokesperson told Buzzfeed News that they are “actively investigating the information and accounts referenced in this report — we will take action on accounts that violate the Twitter Rules.”