Britain’s royal family has taken the unprecedented step of issuing protocols for users of its social media channels, asking for kindness and warning of possible police action following a rise in abusive comments, often aimed at Prince Harry’s pregnant wife Meghan.
In a rare move for the royal family, the frank guidelines have been prompted by abusive and even threatening remarks that have become common in comment sections and on “the firm’s” Twitter feeds.
Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle, the wives of the Queen’s grandsons Princes William and Harry, have been especially targeted.
On Tuesday (Australian time), Buckingham Palace, Clarence House and Kensington Palace – the offices for the Queen, her son and heir Prince Charles, and William and Harry – unveiled their “Social Media Community Guidelines”, which outline the behaviour they expect from users of their channels.
— Kensington Palace (@KensingtonRoyal) March 4, 2019
The protocols are unusual because the palaces traditionally remain tight-lipped regarding online coverage of the royals. They will, however, occasionally release statements to deny certain inflammatory headlines.
“We ask that anyone engaging with our social media channels shows courtesy, kindness and respect for all other members of our social media communities,” the guidelines state.
Comments must not be defamatory, obscene, threatening, or abusive; be discriminatory in any way; be “off-topic, irrelevant or unintelligible” or contain advertising.
The protocol said royal officials would determine whether the guidelines had been breached. Anyone who did so would be blocked or have their comments hidden or deleted.
“We also reserve the right to send any comments we deem appropriate to law enforcement authorities for investigation as we feel necessary or is required by law,” it said.
About 3.87 million accounts follow the royal family’s Twitter feed. Another 1.69 million follow that of Kensington Palace, as the House of Windsor seeks to reach out directly to royal fans and showcase its work.
The overwhelming number of online messages and responses supportive.
However, while the palaces gave no explanation as to why they had issued the guidance now, there has been rising abuse of Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, since the former US actress married Harry last May.
A source from Kensington Palace told Hello! magazine, which launched a campaign in January to end the online abuse, that officials were spending hours each week addressing sexist and racist comments aimed at the duchesses.
These included violent threats. There have also been vicious online rows between rival supporters of the two royals, and even those who report on their activities.
“It is not just the royal princesses who are being trolled, every royal journalist, every royal correspondent is being trolled as well,” royal biographer Claudia Joseph said.
“People see their opinions as valid and I don’t think they totally understand journalists do research, that the royals have a job to do.”
Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York and ex-wife of the Queen’s second son Prince Andrew, called on social media firms to do more following the Hello! campaign, saying it was not a matter of free speech.
“Much of social media has become a sewer,” she said on Twitter last month. “Tech firms need to do much more to take a stand against online abuse, rather than shrugging their shoulders.”