Media Decries Princess of Wales Disinformation

The adjacent collage, compiled by Twitter/X user @PGander73, shows an orchestrated attempt to swamp the platform with the distorted AI interpretation of the famous low-resolution video of Catherine, Princess of Wales (or “Kate Middleton”, as she is still frequently referenced) leaving the Royal Farms Windsor Farm Shop. Previously, it had been claimed that the AI version was an “enhancement” of the original and that the woman in the image must therefore be someone else, rather than that it shows how AI extrapolates wildly when asked to work with insufficient information. In these posts, the AI provenance isn’t even noted, increasingly the likelihood of confusion.

The collage caught the eye of the Daily Mail’s diarist Richard Eden, who asked: “Big question: Who is paying for this weird conspiracy theory promotion?” Given that Russian media had just published a fake story claiming that King Charles had died, I’m inclined to the view that this was likely the work of some Russian bot farm, the repeated question “Why do these big media channels want to make us believe these are Kate and William?” being a way to promote kneejerk incredulity about British and American media (a stance distinct from reasonable critical distance). Alongside these cut-and-paste efforts the AI image was also promoted by conspiracy influencers such as James Melville.

In the wake of the princess’s disclosure of her cancer diagnosis, Eden is now busy as part of a media chorus rebuking various individuals who promoted conspiracy theories, made wild speculations or joked about recent her lack of public visibility or the minor optimisation editing of her Mother’s Day photo. In particular, Mail ire has fallen on “Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s supporter Christopher Bouzy, who appeared in Sussexes’ Netflix doc” and on Omid Scobie, for a “tasteless picture of alarm clock set for 6pm – the exact time Kate released heartbreaking statement”. This, of course, reflects the DMG Media’s ongoing line against Prince Harry ahead of his upcoming legal action against them over phone hacking.

Trolls in general are also admonished, in particular some guy named Paul Condron, who “spewed deeply hurtful and false stories about Kate” on TikTok. However, tabloids don’t tend to take a consistent line on the evils of “trolls”: in 2021 someone who called Meghan Markle a “bitch” on Twitter was presented by the MailOnline as a representative example of righteous British anger at her Oprah interview. What counts as a conspiracy theory to be rejected by all right-thinking people is also flexible.

There is, though, a danger of going too far the other way – when the farm shop video first appeared it was reasonable to be cautious about whether the two individuals had been correctly identified, not because of some all-powerful Palace conspiracy but because the images weren’t ideal quality and there’s a monetary incentive to trick newspapers. The Daily Mirror‘s “Sorry… We Were Hoaxed” headline is 20 years old, but casts a long shadow.

UPDATE (1 April): As reported in Vanity Fair magazine:

On Wednesday, The New York Times spoke to Martin Innes, a professor at Cardiff University who leads their Security, Crime and Intelligence Innovation Institute, about his research connecting 45 social media accounts spreading claims about the princess to “a Kremlin-linked disinformation network” commonly nicknamed Doppelgänger.

…Innes notes that disinformation networks might also be motivated to attack the British royal family in order to deepen a sense of chaos and erode trust in Western institutions. “It provokes an emotional reaction,” he said of the influence campaign. “The story was already being framed in conspiracy terms, so you can appeal to those people. And people who support the royal family get angry.”