For this year's World Mental Health Day, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry renewed their commitment to tackle cyberbullying, hosting their first annual Archewell Foundation Summit in partnership with Project Healthy Minds. During the event, held in New York, they spoke about the necessity of safeguards for children and were joined by families who have lost children to mental illness, in part due to harmful online content.
‘When the car was first invented, there wasn’t a seat belt... and what happened? People started to get hurt, people started to die,’ Meghan said in a discussion at the summit. ‘So, you started to change the car, you would put in safeguards... As we watch the evolution of social media and the internet, what are those same modifications we need to make, to ensure we’re adapting to the times? Because people are getting hurt and people, specifically children, are dying.’
The subject matter is timely. Last month, an inquest into 14-year-old Londoner Molly Russell’s death ruled ‘she died from an act of self-harm while suffering from depression and the negative effects of online content.’ The senior coroner went on to say she’d seen posts on social media that ‘shouldn’t have been available for a child to see’. In 2021, a study at Brigham Young University, Utah, found that girls who spend two to three hours daily on social media from age 13 were at a higher risk of suicide as young adults.
Meghan opened up about experiencing suicidal ideation during an interview with Oprah Winfrey in March 2021, after years of harassment since going public with Prince Harry. In their 2022 Netflix series, Harry & Meghan, software engineer Christopher Bouzy revealed that 70% of trolling aimed at Meghan was coordinated by just 83 accounts, yet reached 17 million people. ‘They’re set up to defame her, to vilify her,’ he said. ‘Some of these, we’re talking about 3-400 tweets a day about her and Harry.’
So what response has Meghan’s latest efforts to tackle cyberbullying elicited? Dismally, more bullying. Online commentators accused her of being ‘fake’ in her compassion for others, sneered at her outfit choice(an Altuzarra jumpsuit)and picked apart every answer she gave during the discussion – condemning her as ‘belittling’ for using ‘this one’ to refer to Prince Harry in the following aside: ‘Being a mom is the most important thing in my entire life, outside of course to being a wife to this one [points at Harry].’
The irony of it all is just too on the nose – but this kind of reaction has an impact on all of us. The internet has proven an unsafe space for women and girls. How can we expect it to change for the rest of us if someone like Meghan can’t campaign against online harms without being subject to it herself ?