‘Harry & Meghan’ Shows How a Tiny Group of Racists Can Warp the Minds of Millions
The second half of Harry & Meghan, the Netflix documentary about Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, is now streaming, and it delves even deeper into the racist harassment that prompted the couple to leave the U.K. and step back from their royal duties. What’s more, episode 5 shows that the kind of mass hysteria that Meghan faced—which included death threats and members of the paparazzi breaking into the property where she was staying—doesn’t come about on its own. It has to be deliberately crafted, and then relentlessly pushed into the public consciousness in order to take hold.
The documentary includes interviews with two information experts: Dr. Safiya Noble, author of Algorithms of Oppression, and Christopher Bouzy, CEO of analytics company Bot Sentinel. In 2021, Bot Sentinel analyzed 114,000 racist tweets targeting Meghan, and found that 70% of that content came from just 83 accounts. Those accounts, which Noble describes as “highly coordinated and deeply networked,” had a combined reach of 17 million people. Bouzy explains that the owners of the accounts worked together to plan which photos they would share and which talking points they would focus on. They also used various tricks and hacks to create multiple accounts, artificially inflating their numbers. It was a deliberate hate campaign launched by just a few individuals, and it worked.
That same dynamic is at play in the British tabloids. The British public didn’t automatically hate Meghan with the kind of fervor that forced her and Harry to leave the country, as we see in the initial positive coverage after their wedding, and her overwhelming support among Brits of color. It took tabloid after tabloid attacking her for everything from the hat she wore to the avocados she ate to turn the tide against her.
That isn’t to say that the tabloids and Twitter trolls weren’t working in fertile ground, though. There’s plenty of racism among white people all over the world. But bigotry is like an ember. It can be stamped out, or stoked into a ravenous bonfire—especially when it turns a profit.
Bot Sentinel’s analysis shows that what looks like public consensus is often anything but. Personally, that fills me with both fear and hope: fear of what small groups of toxic people are capable of, and hope that once their veneer of power is stripped away, the rest of us can take that power back.
(featured image: Netflix)
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