The Princess and the Rumor Mill

Until a year ago, conspiracy theories about the royal family were reserved for the aunt you pretended not to know on Facebook. Her racist comments about Meghan Markle and her insistence on a massive cover-up of Princess Diana’s death only serves as a reminder to avoid the topic come Thanksgiving. But on January 17, things changed: Kensington Palace announced that Kate Middleton had undergone surgery, would need to stay in hospital for up to two weeks, and might not be seen in public until after Easter. Of course, your aunt has her own theory. But this time, so did everyone else.

At first, the suspicion seemed justified: The vague wording of "planned abdominal surgery" raised more questions than it answered. The recovery time was not consistent with the most likely surgery, nor with the stamina of a woman who waved cheerfully three times on the steps of St. Mary's Hospital just hours after giving birth.

Soon, however, the online discussion snowballed into accusations and rumors about divorce, escape, domestic violence, and even near-death experiences. Even an (admittedly Photoshopped) Mother's Day photo or (annoyingly blurry) video of the royal family can't quiet the noise. Your seemingly most ordinary friends start posting paparazzi-captured photos of the princess on Instagram Stories, and even you might find 15 videos on TikTok delving into unsubstantiated rumors about her marriage.

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But the story of Kate Middleton—who, it should be said, may be (1) recovering from the spotlight and (2) having planned abdominal surgery—isn't about Kate Middleton at all. While royal women are no stranger to bearing the brunt of Buckingham Palace PR disasters, the pervasiveness of this rhetoric, and Buckingham Palace's inability to control it, has a lot to do with us and how our distrust of the news has become mainstream.

In 2017, trust in powerful institutions overall was eroding as then-President Donald Trump trumpeted "fake news" over biased reporting by outlets including The New York Times , The Washington Post and CNN . The New York Times published an explosive report containing allegations of sexual harassment and unwanted physical contact against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, sparking an outpouring of support for women who came forward with their stories. Reckoning, these stories expose systemic abuse in the entertainment industry, politics, press, media and beyond. Beyond.

Rather than underscoring the importance of journalism, these domino reports reveal the fact that institutions like movie studios and news outlets have been responsible for covering up and perpetuating these crimes. For example, NBC reportedly retweeted reporter Ronan Farrow’s Weinstein report, which was later published in The New Yorker .

Prince Harry claimed that news reports were sometimes crafted by members of the press team to hide and highlight certain issues, but were not always entirely correct.

In this way, individual voices are given new legitimacy, and social media (such as the hashtag #MeToo) becomes a tool to amplify these voices. While "blind projects" - anecdotal stories in which subjects' identities are concealed - have been around for more than a century, until social media accounts like DeuxMoi and websites like Crazy Days and Nights brought the practice into the mainstream A niche interest.

Not only do these anonymous submissions claim to have inside information on the sleaze and sleaze of Hollywood, but many of them turn out to be legitimate. For example, reports of alleged abuse by actor Armie Hammer were first amplified by DeuxMoi, only for more women, like creator Paige Lorenze, to come forward with similar accusations (Hammer has denied the allegations and has not been charged in connection with them)). Crazy Days and Nights released one of the first pieces of the NXIVM scandal.

As rumors continue to accurately herald celebrity breakups, new romances, and on-set controversies, distrust of the news is at an all-time high. A 2022 Pew Research Center survey found that U.S. adults under 30 trust information on social media almost as much as national news outlets; while in the U.K., a 2023 study by King's College London The survey found that trust in the media in the UK is the second lowest in the world. 24 countries surveyed.

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In January 2023, Prince Harry published a 416-page memoir "Spare ," which raised suspicions about the relationship between the royal family and the British media. He claimed that members' press teams sometimes crafted news reports to hide and highlight certain issues, but according to Harry, these news reports were not always entirely correct - such as the "joint statement" released by him and Prince William, He denies that his eldest brother expelled the Sussexes from the family.

This perfect storm makes it almost impossible for the palace to believe its own narrative, especially when it comes to women. Markle went on to detail the ways in which she felt her mental health and safety were neglected by the royal family, and with this in mind, a new look at Princess Diana's legacy punctures her reputation as a cantankerous, volatile diva at the time. reputation.

As general support for the monarchy waned, the Company's underestimation of and distrust of its subjects' intelligence dug a deeper hole for them. If you follow their PR strategy of "never complain, never explain," then the vacuum will be filled by the public. If they want to confidently squash these rumors — as they seem to be trying to do with reportedly leaked paparazzi photos, a reportedly staged farmer's market appearance, and a carefree Instagram post — then they need to have Prince Louis is missing part of his finger in the family photo.

Two things could be true: Buckingham Palace handled the situation poorly, and a video of Kate Middleton reportedly featuring a woman who looked like Kate Middleton, onlookers claim It's Kate Middleton, and she might be the real Kate Middleton.

But it is our own responsibility to know when our doubts have passed from responsible disbelief to wild insanity. Two things could be true: Buckingham Palace handled the situation poorly, and a video of Kate Middleton reportedly featuring a woman who looked like Kate Middleton, onlookers claim It's Kate Middleton, and she might be the real Kate Middleton.

However, enough people retweeted a post accusing the woman in the video of being a body double that even TMZ, the outlet that posted the video, began to cast doubt on their own claims. The royal family may not be a completely reliable source, but neither are the tabloids.

Even if the princess returns to public life after Easter as promised, the monarchy's reputation has been tarnished. But if they can survive the War of the Roses, they can surely survive TikTok. The real problem is that no matter which institution we distrust next, nothing, not even our own eyes, will be enough to meet our needs.