April 18, 2024
What the parable of the Princess and the cancer diagnoses teaches us is that the Royal Family have yet to figure out the imperatives of the internet and social media. Whatever benefits it makes up for in terms of controlling the release of information, it later claws back in the form of rampant and uncontrollable speculation.

Move over, legacy press. Social media writes the first draft of history now

The Princess of Wales must balance her battle against cancer with her battle against online mis/disinformation

If nature abhors a vacuum, what does she make of the internet and social media?

Strike that. What does Kensington Palace think of vacuums and social media? Well, Friday evening’s sad video from the Princess of Wales announcing her cancer diagnosis offers a clue, if not a solution to nature or any of her vacuums. The void of “Where’s Kate?” has now been filled.

Only it hasn’t. If anything, another void has been created and other vacuums are now being rushed into with filler. The rampant speculation of “Where’s Kate?” that flooded social media for much of the past few months is now being replaced by speculation about “What’s really wrong with Kate?” Welcome to our new online information casino, where any punter can play with any kind of currency, whether real or fake.

Put differently, the Royal Family needs to understand the fight they’re in, not the fights they’re used to or the fights they wished they had. The days of “Never complain, never explain” are over. So, too, are the days where the monarchy could exist as some mysterious force. Most importantly, gone are the days when a quiet deal could be struck with the arbiters of information — i.e. the press — in return for a (relatively) quiet life. Filling a newspaper void and filling an internet void are two very different things. More to the point, the press are no longer the arbiters of information. The traditional news media now write the second draft of history, not the first. Social media now gets the first crack.

Even the tone from commentators in the press following the Princess’ announcement shows how few lessons we’ve all learned. Yes, we should feel shame about how we traded in gossip and speculation. We should all feel like louts for imagining scenarios a mile wide from the reality of a young mother to young children having cancer, that most detestable of all diseases.

But we won’t. The internet and social media are powered by adrenaline and supposition, and so on we will go, filling whatever void we find with whatever we can dream up to fill it. This is our new reality and there is no point raging against it. These new platforms reward whatever we’ll click on, not what’s true. Or fair.

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