Jonathan Brady/PA Images via Getty Images
In the trailer for the next tranche of the “Harry & Meghan” Netflix documentary, to be released on Thursday, a new character is introduced: Christopher Bouzy, a specialist in tracking disinformation and targeted attacks on social media. His company, Bot Sentinel, monitors inauthentic and coordinated trolling campaigns and he’s been following the online campaigns targeting Meghan Markle for years — and has since become a target himself.
The broad-based, lucrative online campaign targeting Harry and Meghan with conspiracy theories and mass trolling is “by far the worst, worse than anything I’ve experienced doing this,” Bouzy told me.
Anti-Meghan trolls are not happy I am in the second official trailer, which is a them problem. Happy Monday! pic.twitter.com/8EkDbDziEy
According to a Bot Sentinel report released earlier this year, online campaigns targeting the royal couple have become a cottage industry for a handful of online influencers. Bouzy calls them “single purpose hate accounts.” Their platforms are devoted solely to posting about the couple and, according to the report, have become “a lucrative hate-for-profit enterprise” where “racism and YouTube ad revenue are the primary motivators.”
The report describes the conspiracy theories they promote as “reminiscent of QAnon.”
One popular theory holds that Meghan was never pregnant, her pregnancy bump faked. The followers of this theory call themselves “Meghan Truthers.” The most extreme proponents of the conspiracy maintain that her children Archie and Lilibet aren’t real at all.
One of the most prominent anti-Meghan and Harry accounts promoting the “moonbump” theory was run by Sadie Quinlan, a Welsh pensioner who heavily promoted the false narrative that Meghan was never pregnant. Her account, called Yankee Wally, accumulated almost 19 million views and earned around $44,000 a year, according to Bot Sentinel’s findings. YouTube banned the account in March, citing violations of its policy against content designed to harass, bully or threaten.
“I truly believe that Meghan Markle was NEVER pregnant. I believe she is barren,” Quinlan told Buzzfeed in March. “As a British taxpayer I am not happy paying for a FRAUDULENT pair of children.”
According to Bot Sentinel, Quinlan inadvertently revealed she had been buying up fake Twitter accounts in bulk to promote her cause. She also posted videos on YouTube showing viewers how to make negative reviews about Meghan’s book rise to the top of Amazon’s book review list.
Bouzy’s research identified Yankee Wally as one of at least 25 accounts devoted to posting round-the-clock anti-Meghan content on YouTube, with almost 500 million combined views and an estimated $3.5 million in YouTube earnings.
A YouTube spokesperson responded to a Coda inquiry, but offered no comment for publication.
Bot Sentinel identified a core group of “predominantly Caucasian women” who have been able to successfully run a coordinated fake news campaign that gained massive influence, using YouTube to monetize their work and using Twitter to manipulate conversations on that platform, too.
In recent weeks, Bouzy has seen heightened levels of inauthentic activity designed to target the couple. In the comments section beneath the Netflix trailer on YouTube, thousands of almost identical sarcastic comments have been posted.
“I love the part where they say they are drawing a line under Megxit after an interview with Oprah, a podcast, a Netflix series and a book. Brings a tear to my left eye,” wrote one commenter. “I love the part where Harry talks about bravely escaping his castle and servants. This obvious discrimination is triggering a tear from my left eye,” wrote another.
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The structure, repeated thousands of times, begins with “I love the part” and ends with “it brings a tear to my left eye.” Many of the accounts are devoted solely to commenting on the trailer, with little or no other activity.
This is a “copypasta” spamming technique where “accounts take a string of text and repeat it over and over again,” Bouzy said. And then organically, real people begin following suit. The resulting comments are a mixture of fake accounts and real people copying an inauthentic campaign.
Attacks on Meghan and Harry have intensified since Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter, while people have been continuing to post videos explaining how to amplify negative content about the couple by using VPNs and swarming websites associated with Meghan. “It’s quite astonishing,” said Bouzy.
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Post expires at 7:56am on Thursday March 16th, 2023