Kate Middleton conspiracies linger after cancer revelation – Digital Journal

Kate Middleton conspiracies linger after cancer revelation – Digital Journal

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Kate Middleton conspiracies highlight an era of news chaos – Copyright AFP Oli SCARFF

Anuj CHOPRA

The revelation that Britain's Catherine, Princess of Wales, has cancer sparked swift reaction to a torrent of lurid speculation on social media about her health, including from those who claimed she was secretly dead. But the grim news hasn't stopped the seemingly endless churn of conspiracy theories.

Kate Middleton, 42, received an outpouring of global sympathy after her video message on Friday revealed she was receiving preventative chemotherapy, seeking to end a maelstrom of unfounded claims circulating amid her months-long absence from life. public.

The manipulation of a royal photograph that the palace released to the media, as well as the British monarchy's culture of secrecy, had fueled much of the online speculation.

But the proliferation of evidence-free theories on social media — including posts peppered with skull emojis claiming the princess was dead or in an induced coma — illustrates the new normal of information chaos in an era of artificial intelligence and misinformation that has distorted the public understanding. of reality.

Speculation took a serious turn last week when British police were asked to investigate an alleged attempt to access his confidential medical records.

“Kate has effectively been intimidated into making this statement,” wrote writer Helen Lewis in the American magazine The Atlantic.

“The alternative, a wildfire of gossip and conspiracy theories, was worse.”

British tabloid Daily Mail also lashed out, asking: “How do all those vile online trolls feel now?”

If social media posts are to be believed, they don't have too many regrets.

– 'Cruel scammers' –

Many on X, formerly Twitter, and TikTok claimed that Kate's video message was an AI-enabled deepfake.

Some users posted slowed down versions of the video to support the unfounded claim that it was digitally manipulated, asking why nothing in the background (a leaf or a blade of grass) was moving.

Others examined his facial movements and speculated why a dimple, as seen in previous images, was not visible.

“Sorry House of Windsor, Kate Middleton (and) the mainstream media. I still don't buy what you sell,” read a post on X.

“I'm not really sorry, you've all read 'The Boy Who Cried Wolf', right?”

And then there was misinformation about cancer itself, with posts falsely claiming the disease was not fatal while comparing chemotherapy to “poison.”

And how could anti-vaccine activists be left behind?

Many of them jumped on the conspiracy bandwagon, baselessly linking Kate's diagnosis to “turbo cancer,” a myth linked to Covid-19 vaccines that has been repeatedly debunked.

“There is no evidence to support the 'turbo cancer' lie,” said Timothy Caulfield, a misinformation expert at the University of Alberta in Canada.

Conspiracy theorists “are cruel scammers who market fear (and) misinformation,” he added.

– 'Seed of doubt' –

The proliferation of wild theories highlights how facts are increasingly under scrutiny in an Internet landscape rife with misinformation, a problem exacerbated by public distrust in traditional institutions and media.

Researchers say the same distrust has tainted online conversations about serious topics, including elections, climate and health care.

“People don't trust what they see and read,” Karen Douglas, professor of social psychology at the University of Kent, told AFP.

“Once the seed of doubt has been sown and people lose trust, conspiracy theories can gain ground.”

Rumors surrounding Kate have skyrocketed since she retired from public life after attending a church service on Christmas Day and undergoing abdominal surgery in January.

Conspiracy theories exploded after the princess admitted editing a Mother's Day family portrait, a move that led news agencies including AFP to remove it.

Conspiracy theorists fell down a new rabbit hole when a subsequent video emerged showing Kate strolling through a market with her husband, baselessly claiming she had been replaced by a body double.

“When you're dealing with an institution as old and opaque as the royal family, public distrust creates an appetite for a lot of research,” Dannagal Young of the University of Delaware told AFP.

Social media hashtags about the princess gained such virality that many users began using them to promote unrelated posts about topics that receive much less attention, including human rights abuses in India and the Middle East.

What made the frenzy worse, researchers say, was a culture of royal secrecy and the palace's apparently botched public relations strategy.

“To be honest, the palace could have nipped the situation in the bud much sooner,” Douglas said.

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