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In November 2020, “Megxit”, describing the exit of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle from the royal family, was named a word of the year by Collins Dictionary. The Sun popularized the term but it actually predates the couple’s departure by years. It existed as a hashtag on Twitter as early as 2018 where it was used by people who disliked Meghan – the first Black woman to join Britain’s monarchy – and did not want her to be part of the royal family, and were calling for her to leave.
The earliest use of the tag (in a tweet that is still visible, at least) in reference to Meghan Markle is from shortly after the engagement announcement in November 2017, and is merely a pun on Brexit. It’s not until the month of the wedding, May 2018, that it appears multiple times as a pejorative towards the future duchess. Twitter account ProphetSpeaks posts an image of Meghan, captioned: “The Brits need a vote before a terrible mistake is made – #MEGXIT is trending.” But the hashtag really picked up from late September to October 2018. Two key events took place at this time: the couple’s tour of Australia and the Pacific Islands, and the announcement of Meghan’s first pregnancy.
From there, things go into overdrive. #CharlatanDuchess also appears in October 2018 with misogynistic tweets, photoshopped images and poorly faked texts which hyper-sexualize Meghan. One user calls her “Duchess of Sex”. Another tweets: “Putting a crown on a whore does not make it royalty.” The hashtags and negative gossip converge with the increasingly negative press coverage and by the end of 2018, something has changed irrevocably. Public opinion and press coverage have soured so much that just seven months after the wedding, one Sky News report asks: “Have we fallen out of love with the Duchess of Sussex?”
Since then, there has been a constant stream of tweets, Tumblr and Quora posts and YouTube videos expressing varying levels of disdain for Meghan, from the nitpicky to the racist and threatening. While some of it has come from the mainstream (writer Julie Burchill this week revealed she had been sacked by The Telegraph for her racist tweets about Harry and Meghan’s second child, Lilibet), there remains an intense and insular group which peddles hatred online. Meghan has been given nicknames galore: “Nutmeg”, “Maggot”, “Murkle”, “Me-Me”, “Smeg”, “Yacht girl” and “Me-gain” (the latter revealed in Tatler to have been used by palace aides). Before January 2020, Megxit referred simply to a desire for Meghan to leave and functioned as a way for like-minded individuals to find each other on social media.
Now that Meghan and Harry have actually gone to the States, the meaning of Megxit has evolved for some to mean, variously, wanting the couple to divorce, a total disappearance from public life or, for the most extreme accounts, her death. I’m calling these kinds of accounts “anti-Meghan accounts”, “Megxiteers” and Meghan “anti-fans”. What’s an anti-fan? If fans mainly engage with a “text” – say a TV show or a book – in a celebratory manner, then anti-fans engage mainly in a negative way, expressing dislike or hatred.
As with other fandoms, some accounts have achieved prominence. Murky Meg, a channel offering mostly negative commentary and gossip about Harry and Meghan’s life, has over 100k followers and subscribers on YouTube and Twitter combined. The account has also tweeted that Meghan did not give birth to son Archie and instead used the services of a surrogate. I reached out to Murky Meg who, after an off-the-record back-and-forth, stopped responding.
Anti-Meghan content also includes tarot, psychic readings and speculative news-analysis. Body language and personality analysis videos made by apparent professionals have been co-opted to bolster Meghan anti-fans’ claims. Sue Blackhurst, a British social psychologist with 36k subscribers on her eponymous YouTube channel, began making videos about the royals to grow her confidence coaching channel. After posting her first video looking at narcissistic traits she saw in Meghan, Blackhurst “woke up the next morning to 10,000 views,” she tells me in a Zoom call. “I’d hit on something.” Blackhurst’s audience is mostly American women aged 50 to 65, who respond not just with thanks for affirming their suspicions about Meghan but with their own experiences with narcissism. Blackhurst’s psychology credentials and relatively restrained tone have made her videos a go-to resource for many Meghan anti-fans. When I ask her why she recommends channels like Murky Meg and According2Taz, another prominent pregnancy truther, she calls both accounts “fantastic” and says that while she doesn’t “disagree with anything those accounts are saying at all,” she tries to be less direct to avoid strong negative pushback. “It’s almost like he’s becoming brainwashed,” Blackhurst says of Harry. She also doubts Meghan’s first pregnancy, citing photographs and video footage of Meghan bending while wearing heels, an apparently false bump and “too much secrecy surrounding the birth”.
Harry and Meghan’s first child, Archie, was born on 6th May 2019 in the UK. The flagship conspiracy theory of the Meghan anti-fans claims that Meghan was never pregnant and instead wore a “moonbump” (a fake pregnancy belly), and that Archie was born via a surrogate. In a now-deleted tweet, one user, who claims to be a retired midwife, says: “She had a fake bump, it regularly moved, hilarious, she is batshit barmy.” Other theories include Archie being a doll, as promoted by well-known anti-Meghan Tumblr account skippyv20. Meghan’s not the first woman in the public eye to be subjected to online commenters casting doubt on her pregnancy. The same happened to Beyoncé and Meghan’s friend Serena Williams. In 2020, Atlantic journalist Kaitlin Tiffany spoke to a Tumblr user who believes that Sophie Hunter, Benedict Cumberbatch’s wife, didn’t give birth to the couple’s children.
Maria Pramaggiore is a professor of media studies at Maynooth University in Ireland. She co-wrote a paper which explores, among other tensions, Meghan’s supposed “illegitimate pregnancy” and what might lie behind that theory. For Pramaggiore, the traditional “justified” public scrutiny of royal pregnancies has coincided with the modern scrutiny of the celebrity body. “Kate Middleton had been paired previously with a foil in terms of the good pregnancy and the bad pregnancy in 2013 with Kim Kardashian, where Kate was termed ‘the Waif’ and Kim ‘the Whale’,” Pramaggiore tells me over Zoom. She’s referring to a You magazine cover titled: “The Battle of the Bumps”. Pramaggiore sees this moment as a precursor of what was to come. “The template had been set prior to Meghan: we already have an acceptable, demure, domesticated, white, pregnant body anticipating motherhood.”
According to this template, then, Meghan’s pregnancy signaled the wrong way to do pregnancy. But then the narrative went one step further, suggesting she wasn’t pregnant at all. “Classy dress, pregnancy glow, extra weight all over versus fake pregnancy,” tweeted According2Taz in January 2019, comparing photos of Kate and Meghan during their pregnancies.
Notions of race are also at play in discussions of Meghan’s motherhood. A narrative persists that Meghan is not only unmaternal but actively endangers Archie. For Pramaggiore, this is “a longstanding trope for Black women, certainly in the United States.” On Twitter, an account posts a cartoon featuring a heavily pregnant Meghan with bones through her hair, a syringe in her arm and four dark-skinned children, the gun-toting one seemingly based on Marlon Wayans’ character from the 1996 film Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood. Pramaggiore also sees this narrative of child endangerment in the press coverage surrounding the presence of lily of the valley (a plant which can be toxic if ingested) in both Meghan and Kate’s wedding flowers. A Daily Express headline about Meghan’s flowers suggests she could have put Princess Charlotte at risk.
For the anti-fans, this “fake pregnancy” is their Watergate. “The truth always comes out in the end, no matter how hard anyone tries to hide it,” reads the bio of one account. “I just want to warn you all, I’m on a rampage to expose the moonbump treachery!!” says another in a now-deleted tweet which tags royal reporters, prominent Meghan critics such as Piers Morgan, and the official royal family accounts. “On the most fundamental level, if you don’t see the child emerge from the woman’s body, you don’t know where it came from,” says Pramaggiore about the possible reasoning behind the theories. “The question is, is it really a royal heir? Is it really related to the Windsor line? How can you be sure? It sort of adds to that fundamental kind of anxiety.”
The anxiety is that Meghan is “getting away” with something. It’s a common thread in the obsessive, conspiracy theory-laden narratives around women linked to beloved famous men, like Sophie Hunter and, more recently, Keanu Reeves’ partner, Alexandra Grant. Delegitimizing Meghan’s pregnancy means that her child – referred to by one Megxiteer as a “genetically mixed up freak” – is potentially not in the line of succession. The elimination of the “threat” Meghan poses to the monarchy is the biggest motivation behind Meghan anti-fan activity and might explain why more extreme accounts buy into conspiracy theories.
A now-suspended account belonging to a user who went by the name Cozza2u explicitly endorsed these ideas in its bio, which read: “Megain should be tried for defection…extortion…slander to name a few…” Studies into belief in conspiracy theories point to contributing factors like low self-esteem, the desire for certainty and control, and feelings of powerlessness. But recent studies also connect a belief in conspiracies to narcissism and bolstered confidence in systems when they are under threat. Here, the system is the British monarchy and the threat is a mixed-race foreigner; for Meghan anti-fans, conspiracy theories which confirm her maliciousness might bolster the view that the British monarchy, by contrast, is beyond reproach.
Dr Agneta Fischer, a social psychologist and professor in emotions and affective processes at the University of Amsterdam, explains that hatred can be a communal activity. “If you’re part of a group who hates another group, the expression of hate also means a social bond between your in-group members,” she says over Zoom. Fischer and her colleagues write about “emotivational goals” – essentially, what the people who hate are seeking – which, often, is the elimination of their hate object. That can take many forms but Fischer also notes that “sometimes just sharing your hate is already some sort of venting. Sharing your hate with your own in-group is already sort of satisfying.”
Similarly, Dr Bertha Chin, a social media and communication lecturer at Swinburne University of Technology and the author of “When Hated Characters Talk Back: Twitter, Hate and Fan/Celebrity Interactions” in the book Anti-Fandom: Dislike and Hate in the Digital Age, says of the Megxit hashtag on Twitter: “I knew it was bad, but I didn’t realize it was that bad […] If you want to look at it from an anti-fandom perspective, it’s that new character who’s come into the narrative and is changing the narrative of the original show.” The motivation behind anti-fandom isn’t simply hate; they’re gate-keepers. As Chin puts it: “They love the thing so much that they don’t want anything to spoil it.”
For some of the accounts, an intense love of the monarchy fuels their anti-fandom. Wanting Megxit, longing for the days when Harry played gooseberry to Wills and Kate, could be compared to liking a TV series before a new showrunner took over. Anti-fans tag the official royal Twitter accounts with their grievances in the same way that Star Wars fans tag Rian Johnson. Their activities – petitioning (for the removal of titles), boycotting companies that work with Harry and Meghan, organised hate-watching and review bombing – mirror media anti-fan behaviour. Blind items are their fan fiction. Photoshopped nudes are their fan art. But as experts on anti-fandom also write, anti-fandom shouldn’t be seen as a cover for what is at its core: obsessive online hatred.
If the Meghan anti-fans and sympathetic Duke and Duchess of Cambridge fans stand on one side, the pro-Harry-and-Meghan group known as the “Sussex Squad” stands on the other. “Squaddies” are fiercely protective of Meghan and Harry, seeing themselves as the only line of defense against waves of criticism and bigotry. In general, their online behavior aligns more closely with traditional fandom, although the behavior of some accounts has crossed over into abuse often aimed at journalists for perceived bias – particularly racial bias – against Meghan. Curiously, the Squad seems more aware of itself as an internet fan group, referring to the “Mugxiters” (as they call them) as “anti-fans”, sharing links on parasocial relationships and the psychology of trolling while Megxiteers attempt to diagnose Meghan with narcissistic personality disorder.
In 2019, Sky investigated the trolling of Meghan on social media, calling the abuse directed towards her “unprecedented” and highlighting the kinds of accounts making these comments. Of the anti-Meghan accounts I approached while writing this piece (not including Murky Meg), one declined to be interviewed and another did not respond to a request for comment. Two Tumblr accounts which blog about both Meghan and Kate and a pro-Sussex Twitter user, however, did agree to talk.
Johanna, a young American woman, tells me over Zoom that her interest in the royal family increased when Harry and Meghan married: “I’m a Black person so it was cool to me to see a biracial person marry into the royal family.” Johanna describes royal fandom as “divided”. She feels that the anti-Meghan blogs have more of a place among Cambridge fans because while “there are some Cambridge fans who try to distance themselves … some Cambridge fans actively try to absorb them into the fandom.” Interactions with such accounts can be frustrating. “Oftentimes I feel like the media misinformation has gone so far that even if you tried to correct it, or even if you prove them wrong, they’re still not going to listen to you.”
Alice*, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of receiving death threats, also became invested when Harry and Meghan got engaged. “I thought it was super cool that an American actress was going to be a member of the royal family,” she says over Tumblr. But after the wedding she “went down a rabbit hole and it was the worst. I saw posts saying that Meghan was a social climber. One post said that Meghan was obsessed with Diana and Kate and that she wanted to marry William but she settled for Harry. The most egregious posts were about Archie.”
Charlie*, who runs a pro-Sussex Twitter account and spoke to me on condition of anonymity for fear of professional repercussions, was wary of speaking to me at all, anticipating a false equivalency being drawn between them and the Megxiteers. “The unifying ethos of the two groups are extremely different,” Charlie tells me over email. “The Sussex Squad is a group united by their admiration for Harry and Meghan and inspired by their cause-driven work. Megxit is a racist hate group spewing racial slurs, misogyny and conspiracy theories across social media in the hope of driving Meghan out of the royal family.”
Charlie is also frustrated by the insistence of some royal reporters that the racist abuse only appears online, feeling it ignores the media’s role. “It was [the media’s] stories pitting Meghan and Kate against each other and suggesting that Meghan was perpetually breaking protocol that created this antagonistic rivalry,” they say. Johanna, Charlie and, interestingly enough, Meghan anti-fans like Accordingt2Taz’s comments about the media point to the warped relationship between journalists on the royal beat and fans/anti-fans.
I spoke to BuzzFeed News reporter Ellie Hall, whose article comparing headlines about Meghan and Kate went viral. She tells me over Zoom that she interacts with royal watchers on Twitter because she feels “too many reporters live in a bubble of their own making” but admits that she has found it harder these past few years. “It has gotten increasingly more toxic,” she says. Hall saw the criticism become personal attacks..
“Until I started writing about Meghan, I didn’t get these emails criticizing my work and criticizing truth,“ says Hall. Similar to both US and UK politics, when it comes to royal stuff, people fundamentally do not believe the truth: “Meghan was pregnant. That is a fact. People disagree on that fact like she’s faking her pregnancy.” Hall recalls receiving an email referring to Meghan as a “half breed American mediocre actress”. “Every time I publish something about Meghan, I get emails that make me sick to my stomach,” she says.
Of the Royal Rota, a group of UK tabloid and broadsheet journalists who cover the royal family, Hall says: “They get far worse abuse than I do for the things that they write and Meghan fans can be nasty too.”” Hall recalls Meghan fans calling Camilla Tominey, an associate editor at The Telegraph who writes about the royals, “Camel Toe”. Tominey recently wrote for the paper about the abuse she’s received online as a royal reporter. Harper’s Bazaar‘s royal editor, Omid Scobie, is a particular target, says Hall: “He gets it worse than everybody and he is a person of color.” I reached out to several royal reporters, some Rota, some not. One declined to be interviewed, citing the abuse they had received online. The others did not respond in time.
Hall suggests there is a particular facet of the “media ecosystem” which has created the tense relationship: the reliance on anonymous sources. “This is a beat built on anonymous sources and if readers don’t trust reporters to be impartial, then they are not going to trust that these reporters have done their due diligence on all of these stories.”
I ask Hall about royal reporters who follow and retweet anti-Meghan troll accounts. She (a little unconvincingly, I have to say) partially blames these reporters’ lack of Twitter proficiency but also understands that things like this contribute to that mistrust. “If a royal reporter retweets rational criticism from an account that is wildly anti-Meghan and believes Meghan is faking her pregnancy, people who like Meghan will see that as a sign of bias on this reporter’s part.”
Omid Scobie, who has been covering the royals for over a decade and is currently the royal editor at Harper’s Bazaar US, says that “the world of royal watching was somewhat simplistic” before 2017. Significantly, Meghan’s arrival on the scene coincided with the rise of Donald Trump. “We saw Trump become president, we saw conspiracy theory becoming part of the mainstream news agenda in the US and in the UK,” he tells me in a phone call. “So this ability to go online and start conspiracy theories was becoming very normal.” It was around this time that Scobie became aware of anti-Meghan Tumblr blogs and of a sudden increase in interest in himself. A recent anonymous Tumblr post (caption: “Bashir down…Scobie next!!”) features a GIF of a man in a chicken suit flapping his wings while he is shot at point-blank range by another man smoking a cigar. For all intents and purposes, this is a tacit death threat which incites violence against a journalist.
“At the same time, the tabloids in the UK got more fierce with their coverage of the Sussexes,” Scobie adds. “That negative coverage can sometimes enable more aggressive, sometimes violent and hateful conversation underneath these stories, with 20-30,000 comments in what is a largely unregulated forum.” For Scobie, the situation is connected to the state of the media, both journalistic and social. “It’s a whole economy of hate,” he says, “but Meghan has very much been a victim of that. She has been the poster child for, if you talk shit about someone, if you spread false information, if you push the line as close to racism or sexism as you can, you will be rewarded for it through likes, retweets, column inches, air time.”
Scobie sees an “unhealthy relationship” between certain members of the royal press and anti-fan accounts. He names royal commentator and Prince Harry biographer Angela Levin, who has “tweeted or retweeted bizarre and fictional conspiracy theories about whether Meghan’s baby bump was real or not, whether Archie was via surrogate, or whether Meghan and Harry are secretly separated.” Levin has retweeted anti-Meghan accounts and pregnancy truther Yankee Wally. “Her reward is a social media engagement boost from hundreds of accounts dedicated to spreading hate,” says Scobie. “Her acknowledgement of these anti-fan conspiracies enables an entire group of people online to carry on doing the toxic things they do.” Levin responded via email to a request for comment with “No comment”.
Gossip is also an integral part of this media ecosystem. Elaine Lui is the founder of LaineyGossip.com and a TV host on CTV’s eTalk and The Social in Canada. She tells me over Zoom: “I do think that any gossip conversation exposes our value system. So in terms of royal gossip, I think that the royal family in particular is definitely a gateway for all of us to interrogate systems, institutions, cultural values and social norms.”
When Harry and Meghan began dating, Lui initially saw a lot of excitement. “But very quickly it started to turn, especially when I started to write about all the shitty headlines that were coming out of the British tabloids.” Some of the engagement which Lui, who chooses to use the term “Sussexit”, receives is more extreme. “There is one [person] in particular who emails me a minimum five or six times a day to shit on Harry and Meghan, and particularly Meghan, with links to YouTube videos of what they’ve just watched.” What do they want? Lui isn’t sure. “But I do know that there is definitely a frustration in the tone of those emails: ‘Why don’t you get it, Lainey?'”
The abuse doesn’t just come from the anti-Meghan faction. “I have been attacked by the Sussex Squad as well,” she tells me. “I do think though that if the primary purpose of the Sussex Squad is to defend Harry and Meghan, that’s great. [Harry and Meghan] have been unfairly targeted. But I would caution against using the same tactics of bullying and ugliness that are already out there and fighting evil with evil.”
So where do we go from here? It’s been over a year since Harry and Meghan stepped down from royal duties but the negativity still runs at fever pitch. Professor Fischer states that trust is the “first prerequisite of not hating someone anymore”. The Meghan anti-fandom would need to be convinced that the duchess’ perceived motives are no longer threatening. “There has to be a radical, disruptive event in order to restore things,” she says. For some, that event cannot be anything less than Meghan’s divorce, humiliation and penury. And they don’t have to look too far to find media commentators suggesting that a reconciliation (for anti-fans, a restoration of the old way of things) could only happen if Meghan is “out of the picture”.
For Johanna, two things need to happen. “First, I believe that racism needs to be acknowledged,” she says. Secondly, media coverage of the couple has to subside. Charlie also advocates for acknowledgement of the racism towards and uniquely poor treatment of Meghan, although not by the fandom but by the royal family. For Charlie, it would take an apology to the Sussexes, “accountability from the royal family’ and a “truce” with the UK press. Hall doesn’t believe the vitriol towards Meghan will ever subside because of the “ownership” some feel over William and Harry. “I think that if [Harry] does divorce her and comes back, he will be forgiven,” she says. “I don’t think that there is any way that is possible for Meghan.” Those who really dislike Meghan will never believe that Harry decided to leave the royal family of his own accord.
Like Hall, Lui isn’t too optimistic about a de-escalation. “Harry and Meghan are living their lives successfully,” she says. “As long as Meghan and Harry are happy, those people are going to be pressed.”
“I don’t really know how one would even try and untangle that,” says Scobie of the online toxicity, “if we don’t have some kind of movement or effort from the very top, i.e. for YouTube to take accountability, for platforms like Tumblr and Twitter to actually put more effort into monitoring the communities that they allow to take space on their platforms.”
Like Charlie, Scobie believes the royal family should intervene. “We haven’t really seen much fightback from the palace itself,” he tells me. He acknowledges Prince William’s anti-bullying initiatives and the Sussexes’ upcoming work building positive online communities but adds: “We’ve never actually heard the royal family address the online hatred, bullying and racism that has existed and grown to extreme levels in the past four years.” In 2019, Kensington Palace did announce new social media guidelines in an attempt to limit the toxicity on their accounts, and revealed they had been in touch with social media firms for help, but their accounts continued (and continues today) to see abusive comments. It may have been the inadequacy of the response that led to Harry and Meghan feeling “let down” and “unprotected”, as they revealed in the Oprah interview. Scobie calls for accountability from everybody: “members of the royal family, the institution itself, the social media companies, media organizations and individual journalists from myself to the Angela Levins of the world, and everyone in between.”
A Twitter spokesperson told Refinery29: “Keeping Twitter safe is a top priority for us – abuse and harassment have no place on the service. We have clear rules in place that apply to everyone, everywhere that address threats of violence, abuse and harassment and hateful conduct and we take action when we identify accounts that violate these rules.”
Refinery29 has contacted Tumblr for comment.
*Names have been changed to protect identities
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