CULTURE

Meghan Markle Was Targeted By a Coordinated Online Harassment Campaign

Social media has been in the news a lot lately, as major tech companies answer before Congress about the role their platforms played in radicalizing some of its users and contributing to body image-based mental health issues. But online harassment is a serious issue as well — particularly for women of color, whose intersections put them at an increased risk for racist and misogynistic vitriol. Meghan Markle has unfortunately dealt with her share of social media harassment, but according to a new report, she has been the target of coordinated hate by a relatively few number of users.

Bot Sentinel, a free nonpartisan platform that monitors disinformation and bots on Twitter, released an analysis regarding the hostility directed at the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. The analysis found that “55 single-purpose accounts” were primarily responsible for hateful content, with “28 secondary hate accounts” that push the messages out onto the greater Twitter sphere. “Combined with the help of their 187,631 followers,” Bot Sentinel concludes, “these accounts were responsible for approximately 70% of the original and derivative hate content targeting Harry and Meghan, Duke and Duchess of Sussex on Twitter.”

Still, as we all know, posts shared and retweeted can reach thousands, if not millions of eyeballs on the platform. “We estimate a combined unique potential reach of 17,000,000 users,” according to the report, which is how the harassment blows up into a torrent of hate towards Markle.

Bot Sentinel notes that Twitter had “previously suspended 40% of the primary accounts” for terms of service violations, but the accounts popped back up, often using creative spelling and other workarounds to avoid detection. Disturbingly, analysts who visited two of the identified 55 primary hate accounts were suggested other hateful accounts by Twitter’s algorithm.

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

The report confirms what many victims of online harassment have long suspected: that there really is a conspiracy to victimize people online. It also proves that a small number of users can have exponential reach, and the limits of AI-based platform policing. What can be done to protect Markle, and other victims of targeted harassment? That’s the big question, and sadly, none of the major social media networks have figured it out yet. You can read the full report here.