The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Online trolls won’t leave Meghan and Catherine alone. Now Britain’s royal family is fighting back.

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, left, and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, arrive for the Christmas Day service at St. Mary Magdalene Church in England. (Frank Augstein/AP)

LONDON — Enough is enough.

With Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, increasingly the targets of online abuse, the British monarchy published stern social media community guidelines on Monday in a bid to tackle offensive comments posted to official royal channels.

“The aim of our social media channels is to create an environment where our community can engage safely in debate and is free to make comments, questions and suggestions,” the new policy reads. “In order to help create this safe environment we have set out some guidelines which apply to any engagement with us or other members of the community on any of our social media channels.”

Urging users to show “courtesy, kindness and respect,” the guidelines make clear that vicious comments will not be tolerated and that those found to be leaving abusive messages will have the comments hidden or deleted. Users who flout the new rules will be blocked and possibly reported to law enforcement.

“We also reserve the right to send any comments we deem appropriate to law enforcement authorities for investigation as we feel necessary or is required by law,” the policy warns.

While members of Britain’s royal family are often showered with affection at home and overseas, being a part of it or marrying into it also has its dark side. For Meghan, who married Prince Harry in 2018, and Catherine, who married Prince William in 2011, the abuse isn’t limited to online platforms. Both are frequent targets for the scavenging British tabloids, which in recent months have reported of a purported rift between the two, allegedly instigated by Meghan.

From their clothing choices to their weight, from their family relationships to their student days, both women have been the focus of relentless media attention and social media haranguing.

But even before Meghan married Harry last year, the American and self-proclaimed feminist found herself at the center of unwarranted attention.

In 2016, Harry issued a rare but powerful statement in which he defended his then-girlfriend and attacked the British press and online trolls for their racist and sexist abuse. He expressed worry for her safety and evinced hope that his statement would force the press to reflect before publishing harmful stories about Meghan.

“He knows commentators will say this is ‘the price she has to pay’ and that ‘this is all part of the game.’ He strongly disagrees,” the statement read. “This is not a game — it is her life and his.”

Meghan Markle's father, Thomas, appealed to Britain's Queen Elizabeth II to help end his estrangement from his daughter, wife of Prince Harry. (Video: Reuters)

Media interest in Meghan’s career, race and precarious relationship with her father, Thomas Markle, reached fever pitch in the days leading up to her royal wedding. Many note that married life has not been easy for Meghan, who is expecting her first child in spring.

Harry and William know firsthand how damaging life in the public eye can be for the women they love.

Before the birth of social media, their mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, was a constant target for British tabloids and paparazzi, who hounded her every move. There are some who blame the media for her death in a car crash in Paris while being pursued by photographers. But a French judicial investigation concluded that the 1997 crash was an accident and cleared the photographers.

Although both Catherine and Meghan do not have their own social media accounts (Meghan deleted hers before becoming a member of the royal family), official accounts run by special aides frequently post updates on the whereabouts of Britain’s royals.