Meghan Markle has for years been the target of sweeping hate-fueled harassment online — and a recent investigation has found that a small handful of people were behind it, utilizing social media to propel violent racist and sexist posts to reach millions of people.
Bot Sentinel, a platform created by Christopher Bouzy that works to help fight disinformation and targeted harassment on Twitter, has released its findings after last week announcing that it would be looking into Meghan Markle hate accounts on Twitter. The investigation, by nature, also extended to hate accounts targeting Prince Harry.
By analyzing 114,000 tweets with internal Bot Sentinel tools, it determined that 55 single-purpose accounts (identified as primary hate accounts) and 28 secondary hate accounts (which helped further amplify the primary accounts) accounted for 70% of all original hate content targeting the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. That content could potentially reach 17,000,000 users, the report said.
“Our research found that a relatively small number of single-purpose anti-Meghan and Harry accounts created and disseminated most of the hateful content on Twitter,” the report overview said.
“However, the primary accounts had assistance that allowed their content to be repackaged and shared by accounts with a considerable following,” the report added. “We observed the primary accounts coordinating their activities and using various techniques to avoid detection. In short, the majority of the anti-Meghan and Harry activity wasn’t organic.”
The findings exemplify a growing trend apparent on all platforms and within misinformation campaigns, where a small number of users can drive the majority of deceptive content.
For example, the Center for Countering Digital Hate revealed in May that they found that 12 accounts ― nicknamed the “Disinformation Dozen”― were responsible for 65% of vaccine misinformation and lies spread on social media.
The Duchess of Sussex has been the relentless target of disinformation and hate speech since she entered the global spotlight in 2016, after it was officially confirmed that she was dating Prince Harry.
At the time, the prince released a statement through Kensington Palace condemning the “wave of abuse and harassment” Meghan faced from the U.K. media and “the outright sexism and racism of social media trolls.”
And after the Duke and Duchess of Sussex announced in January 2020 that they were stepping back as working members of the royal family, HuffPost UK’s Nadine White exclusively revealed findings that showed that Meghan was targeted by hundreds upon hundreds of racist and sexist tweets after the announcement.
The study, which was conducted by digital journalism analysts at the University of Sunderland for HuffPost UK, provided examples of the severe abuse aimed at the former “Suits” actor.
“There will be many more tweets not captured in the study, as racism and misogyny are often expressed in more subtle terms that do not use overtly abusive language,” Dr. John Price, senior lecturer in journalism at Sunderland, told HuffPost UK at the time, adding that “The vast amount of abuse captured in these findings is startling.”
“It shows that aspects of social media, such as Twitter, have become a haven for people wishing to express hatred against women,” he added.
Meghan has spoken about the “almost unsurvivable” amount of hate she faced while on maternity leave for her first child.
“I’m told that in 2019, I was the most trolled person in the entire world ― male or female,” the duchess said during a joint interview with her husband, Prince Harry, on the “Teenager Therapy” podcast back in October 2020.
“Eight months of that, I wasn’t even visible. I was on maternity leave with a baby,” Meghan said. “But what was able to be manufactured and churned out ― it’s almost unsurvivable.”
“That’s so big you can’t even think of what that feels like,” the royal added.
In court filings last year, lawyers for the Sussexes said that Meghan had also been the target of “hundreds of thousands of inaccurate articles” and was left “unprotected” by the royal family during her pregnancy.
Fighting misinformation and online hate speech has been one of the main focuses of Harry and Meghan’s Archewell Foundation, as well as advocating to ensure that social media becomes a healthier place.
The couple ― and the foundation ― currently do not have any active social media accounts.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.