More than 3,600 hateful tweets directed at, or about, the Duchess of Sussex were sent in just two months by just 20 accounts, new analysis has revealed.
The handful of accounts, most of which seem to have been set up explicitly and exclusively to spew vile posts about Meghan Markle, were responsible for 70 per cent of more than 5,200 abusive messages.
The research, by campaign group Hope Not Hate and CNN, examined tweets in January and February featuring anti-Meghan hashtags including #megxit, #bumpgate and #mmtcd – believed to mean ‘Meghan Markle, the Charlatan Duchess’.
It comes after Buckingham Palace, Clarence House and Kensington Palace issued joint new rules which warned that ‘obscene, offensive or threatening’ comments would be removed from message threads in order to create a ‘safe environment’ for genuine fans.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, pictured on Merseyside in January, are said to have been taking advice from Meghan’s close friend Serena Williams on how to deal with online abuse
Royal aides warned that abusive comments – such as those targeting Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle – could be reported to the police, and said the official accounts had had to ‘pre-block’ the n word and emojis of knives and guns.
In January, Kensington Palace revealed that its moderating teams spends ‘hours’ eliminating ‘vile’ comments, which often target the Duchess of Cambridge, 37, and the pregnant Duchess of Sussex, also 37.
Patrik Hermansson, researcher for Hope Not Hate, said: ‘Meghan Markle has suffered appalling levels of abuse, some of it racist in nature.
‘Our data analysis, provided to CNN, was able to show how just a small number of accounts were behind the vast majority of anti-Meghan trolling on Twitter.
‘This mirrors other research we’ve done, for example analysing anti-Muslim abuse online, where similar messages are often shared, co-ordinated and amplified by key accounts, as well as bots.
The tweet that appeared on the @Clarencehouse Twitter handle; the guidelines were also posted on the accounts @royalfamily and @Kensingtonroyal
‘Conspiracies often mingle with outright hatred, part of a wider and more disturbing trend for hatred to migrate online, and which social media companies must still do far more to tackle given the rising tide of hate crimes and incidents.’
The fact that such a small number of users generated such a large number of the tweets suggests that the accounts were created for the purpose of producing negative content about the Duchess, Hope Not Hate said.
Some of the accounts also shared links to far-right websites and social media pundits, and many used racial epithets to describe Meghan.
But the researchers did not find evidence that the accounts are part of an organised far-right campaign.
This week in a message on the royal family’s website, stern new guidelines asked followers of the Windsors’ accounts to not ‘promote discrimination based on race, sex, religion, nationality, disability, sexual orientation or age.’
‘The aim of our social media channels is to create an environment where our community can engage safely in debate and is free to make comments, questions and suggestions,’ it said.
The pregnant Duchess of Sussex and other members of the royal family have frequently been the target of online trolls on social media. This week, the official royal website posted new guidelines to followers saying abuse wouldn’t be tolerated
‘We ask that anyone engaging with our social media channels shows courtesy, kindness and respect for all other members of our social media communities.’
In a warning to those who flout the guidelines, the royal site said, as well as users being blocked, the police may be contacted in some cases.
‘We reserve the right to determine, at our discretion, whether contributions to our social media channels breach our guidelines,’ it said.
‘We reserve the right to hide or delete comments made on our channels, as well as block users who do not follow these guidelines.
‘We also reserve the right to send any comments we deem appropriate to law enforcement authorities for investigation as we feel necessary or is required by law.’
Reaction to the guidelines was largely positive although, predictably, some saw it as an opportunity to immediately flout the request and post disrespectful comments.