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There Really Is a Coordinated Online Attack on Meghan Markle

According to a new analysis, the vast majority of hate tweets about Meghan Markle came from just 83 accounts. Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: Getty Images, Twitter

Meghan Markle is no stranger to public harassment. She’s received it from Piers Morgan, members of the royal family, and people who were mad that she wrote a children’s book. The level of hate she has faced, especially online, has felt unprecedented, with Markle previously saying she is among “the most trolled people in the world.” Now, a new report has found that, while seemingly ubiquitous, much of the targeted harassment of Markle on Twitter comes from a small but coordinated group of users. In fact, the analysis revealed that 70 percent of the hateful posts examined came from just 83 accounts. The tweets had an estimated reach of 17 million Twitter users.

The new report comes from Bot Sentinel, a Twitter analytics service that has previously looked into the right-wing discreditation of 2020 election results, the spread of COVID-19 disinformation, and the racist abuse of U.K. football players. After Markle and Prince Harry announced their departure from the royal family, Bot Sentinel noted an increase in targeted hate content against the couple. The company looked at roughly 114,000 hate tweets about the Duke and Duchess of Sussex — which included racist content, a tweet calling for Markle’s death, and accusations that Markle was faking her pregnancy — posted since January 2020. Bot Sentinel identified 55 “primary accounts” responsible for the vast majority of disparaging content against Markle. An additional 28 “secondary accounts” were flagged as existing primarily to amplify the tweets of the primary group. The handles of these 83 accounts are all listed in the report, though it doesn’t make clear who runs them.

“This campaign comes from people who know how to manipulate the algorithms, manipulate Twitter, stay under the wire to avoid detection and suspension,” Bot Sentinel CEO Christopher Bouzy told BuzzFeed News. “This level of complexity comes from people who know how to do this stuff, who are paid to do this stuff.” Bouzy said that after Bot Sentinel announced it would be looking into hate tweets against Markle, he received his own onslaught of Twitter harassment, with accounts spamming his timeline, mass-reporting his account, and sharing false allegations about him and Bot Sentinel. He told BuzzFeed the harassment was unlike other harassment he or the company had faced, with this content being notably more “personal.”

Though Twitter prohibits hate speech and harassment in its guidelines, Bot Sentinel said these accounts have a way of getting around the algorithms that are meant to catch this type of content. These tactics include adding “parody” to their Twitter bio (despite not being a parody account), using coded racist language, and strategically making their profiles private. “This is a game they play with Twitter,” Bouzy told BuzzFeed News, “and they know exactly what they’re doing.”

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.”

There Really Is a Coordinated Online Attack on Meghan Markle