A Very Royal Scavenger Hunt

Some members of the royal family, particularly the princes and princesses of its younger generation, are easy to slot into that victim role. They are wealthy, famous and photogenic, and their roles in public life make them beloved to many.

Catherine, particularly, was a ready-made focus for a conspiracy narrative, not only because she is glamorous and widely liked in Britain (helped by favorable coverage in the tabloid press), but also because she has been more private about her life than many other royals. “Kate’s signature has been her composure, her discretion,” Arianne Chernock, a historian at Boston University who studies the British Monarchy, told me. “Kate has been a much more private person” than Princess Diana, she said.

The recent conspiracy theories came prepackaged with villains: In the speculative corners of the internet, William was slotted into the villain role that Charles once occupied in coverage of Diana, for instance.

And as an institution, the royal family is, by its nature, particularly vulnerable to faultfinding and even ridicule: it is after all a centuries-old constitutional relic, built on strange rituals and funded by British taxpayers, that many see as anachronistic in a modern parliamentary democracy. At its heart is a paradox: it is a family of human beings held together by relationships and love, but it is also “the firm,” as Prince Philip called it, an institution that ruthlessly pursues its own interests, even at the expense of the royals themselves.

Importantly, there was an existing online subculture devoted to speculating about the royal family’s perceived institutional corruption and mistreatment of its members: supporters of Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, often called the “Sussex squad,” had long combed royal coverage for evidence of wrongdoing. That community became a source of some of the conspiracy narratives that were amplified by social media algorithms and even a Russian-linked disinformation operation. And the scale of online speculation then became a subject of mainstream media coverage, which added further fuel to the fire, a feedback loop that Are said is common.