‘Megbot’ army linked to Russian conspiracy theories tweeting ‘obsessive’ support for Duchess, says report
Suspicious “bot-like” Twitter accounts and handles linked to Russian conspiracy theories have been “obsessively” tweeting about the Duchess of Sussex, an investigation has found. Analysis of accounts interconnected into a “Meghan Markle” Twitter community found around 1,000 “highly-connected” accounts which have tweeted more than two and half million times since September. One account with the second highest number of pro-Meghan followers, which also tweets about US politics from a pro-Democratic perspec-tive, appears to indicate “bot-like activity” while the fourth most shared account frequently tweets from Russia Today and has questioned Sergei Skripal’s near-fatal Novichok poisoning. The research by 89up, the consultancy firm which carried out an analysis of Facebook data for a DCMS select committee report, published last month, found an “unusually high reach” for the narrow interconnected group of Meghan fans. It comes as Meghan joined a panel of female leaders for International Women’s Day on Friday, saying men should embrace the idea they can be both masculine and feminist, declaring: “Hashtags are not enough” to bring about real change. Insisting men must not feel threatened by women walking alongside them as equals, she joked about feeling the “embryonic kicking of feminism” from inside her growing baby bump and said making men including her husband Prince Harry a part of the conversation was the only way to make progress.
Having been announced earlier as the new vice-president of the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust, the duchess spoke at length about the challenges facing women in developing countries and, when asked about extra hurdles faced by women of colour, acknowledged there could be “an added layer of race [or] social demographic” in their treatment. Last week, Kensington Palace published rules for followers of its social media channels on Monday, warning that anyone who posts offensive comments will be blocked or reported to the police in the wake of escalating abuse of both Meghan and the Duchess of Cambridge. On Friday, research by Hope Not Hate and CNN revealed that out of 5,200 abusive tweets directed at Meghan in January and February, 3,600 came from the same small cohort of trolls. Now a new report suggests a similar degree of collusion between some of the duchess’s most “obsessive” champions.
89up, which has previously worked for the pro-Remain Best for Britain group, found a network of 1,103 “highly-connected” Twitter accounts had tweeted 2,555,070 times in the past six months with a potential reach of one billion Twitter impressions. “This is an unusually high reach for a narrow interconnected group,” said the report by 89up, which used the search terms like “Duchess of Sussex” and #MeghanMarkle” to locate the tweets. While very few of the larger of the Twitter accounts in this community were found to be entirely automated, “many have unusual features, suggesting there could be collusion or automation behind some of the accounts,” said the report. It also found evidence of “coordinated attacks” on royal correspondents who have written negative stories about Meghan, with one journalist targeted with over 7,000 posts. Josh Feldberg, Director of Digital at 89up said: “There is highly suspicious activity on Twitter around search terms linked to the Duchess of Sussex. It is unclear the extent to which this content is automated, but the prevalence of strange Twitter usernames and the overlap between accounts that tweet primarily about politics but also tweet extensively about the duchess, could point to an orchestrated campaign to manipulate public opinion by an organisation or state.
“It is not impossible that there is just a fanatical community of people online who are tweeting all day content about the duchess, but the scale of the community and the amount of content they are sharing should make us suspicious.” 89up undertook an analysis of the network of accounts interconnected into a “Meghan Markle” Twitter community using prominent accounts including ‘PositivelyMegh1′, DuchessOnDuty’ and ‘Sussex__Archive’. The Twitter account that has tweeted the most about the Duchess is tvfan00 which has tweeted over 80,000 times in the 3 years since it was set up. The account with the second highest number of followers linked to PositivelyMegh1 is jaydoll51, which also tweets about left wing US politics and predominantly other accounts (an indicator of ‘bot like activity’, according to the report). This account is linked by a follower relationship to other accounts with ‘bot-like characteristics’ that retweet content about Markle consistently. The fourth most shared account tweeting positive posts about the duchess, Lewisno1fan, posted no fewer than 1,596 tweets about Meghan in the last year. In recent weeks, the account has been downplaying the anti-Semitism crisis in the Labour party, defending suspended Labour MP Chris Williamson, as well as sharing tweets from Russia Today and Skripal conspiracy theories.