Prince Harry’s book Spare triggered a surge in online negativity towards himself, Meghan Markle, Prince William and Kate Middleton, but criticisms of the Sussexes have proved more enduring, social media analysis for Newsweek shows.
The Duke of Sussex launched a broadside against William and Kate in his best-selling memoir but the rising tide in hostile commentary about the couple faded fast, according to data compiled by audience intelligence platform Pulsar, using X (formerly Twitter), Reddit, blogs and forums.
By contrast, the negativity towards Harry and Meghan has continued throughout 2023, leaving them more criticized in July than they were a year ago, in August 2022.
The Big Picture
The Harry & Meghan Netflix docuseries retold the story of their royal exit, friction with the media and suspicions that family members were leaking stories about them in December 2022.
Then in his book that came out in January, Harry said his brother pushed him to the floor during an argument about Meghan and described William’s “alarming baldness,” while disclosing Kate had taken offense to Meghan saying she had “baby brain,” among the many revelations.
Newsweek asked Pulsar to look at how the two royal couples were discussed on social media over 12 months, from August 2022 to July 2023, during a year that saw seismic changes for the royal family, including the death of Queen Elizabeth II.
Alex Bryson, content marketing lead at Pulsar, told Newsweek: “We looked at the positive (public-minded, charitable, dignified, brave etc.) and negative (selfish, profiteering, mean, terms of abuse) terms mentioned alongside each couple. This uses data from X/Twitter, Reddit, Blogs and Forums.
“It shows us that the queen’s death, followed by the subsequent releases of the Netflix doc and Spare, act as the two largest flashpoints for conversational spikes.
“William and Kate have seen increasingly high levels of positivity, while negative conversation around the prince and princess has bottomed out.
“Harry and Meghan, meanwhile, see spikes in negativity remain part of the online discussion about them, driven by news cycles and viral posts.
“It’s notable that the positive conversation around the couple has become less volatile in recent months—indicating a hard core of supporters who continue to champion them.”
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s Standing in 2022
The Sussexes sparked more than 25,000 positive posts across X, Reddit, blogs and forums in August 2022, compared to almost 14,000 negative posts, meaning that while there was a strand of hostility towards them it was outstripped by upbeat content.
William and Kate were referenced positively in almost 11,000 posts and negatively in 3,500, making them far less talked about but also less criticized.
Queen Elizabeth II’s death in September 2022 sparked a significant rise in hostility towards the Sussexes, with negative posts reaching almost 73,000 that month compared to 41,000 positive posts.
William and Kate did not see the same trend, recording 15,700 positive posts and around 11,000 negative ones, though they were again less talked about.
By October and November, the hostility towards the Sussexes had dissipated and they were talked about more positively than negatively in both months, leaving them well placed to launch their Netflix show Harry & Meghan and the prince’s book Spare.
The Netflix Release and ‘Spare’
Those two projects once again sent hostility towards them spiking sharply only this time the negativity proved more enduring.
Critical posts rose to around 64,000 in December 2022, when the Netflix docuseries was released, rising past 99,000 in January 2023, compared to 50,000 positive in December and 70,000 in January.
The Netflix documentary appeared to have only marginal impact on the discussion around William and Kate (17,000 positive and 13,000 negative) but Spare had a bigger impact.
January saw 38,700 negative posts about the Prince and Princess of Wales, by far the highest volume they received over the 12 months.
At the same time, there were 22,000 positive posts making January the only month from August 2022 to July 2023 in which negativity towards William and Kate outstripped positivity.
How the Dust Settled
In the aftermath, the hostility towards William and Kate appears to have dissipated fast while for the Sussexes it has mostly either matched or outstripped positivity towards them.
As the volume of conversation died down, there were 14,600 critical posts about the Sussexes in February compared to 12,700 positive ones.
In the same month, William and Kate’s 9,600 positive posts exceeded the 4,600 negative ones by more than double.
Harry and Meghan did see an upward swing in April (25,000 positive and 18,500 negative) but were talked about more critically in March and June.
In July, there were 16,000 positive posts and 14,600 negative ones compared to 14,600 positive and 6,000 negative for Prince William and Kate.
Praise for the Prince and Princess of Wales comfortably outstripped criticism in every month after January.
How the Trends Compare to Opinion Polling
Newsweek commissioned regular opinion polling by Redfield & Wilton in the first half of 2023 in an effort to determine how the Netflix series and Spare had shaped U.S. attitudes towards the royals.
On December 5, 2022, days before Harry & Meghan dropped on the streaming platform, Prince Harry had a net approval rating of +38 while Meghan’s was +23.
Both were slightly less popular than Kate (+43) and William (+40) but were still well liked by Americans.
Redfield & Wilton polled Americans again on behalf of Newsweek on January 16, six days after the release of Spare, and found Harry had slumped to -7 while Meghan was at -13.
Over the same period, William dropped to +21 while Kate was left at +26, meaning the Wales did take a hit but were less badly damaged than the Sussexes.
Since then, the royals have largely recovered, suggesting America has ultimately opted to move on from the royal bombshells that marked the start of the year.
What separates the shift in overall public opinion from the trend on X, Reddit, blogs and forums is that the Sussex recovery has been more complete.
By May 31, Harry’s net approval rating was back up to +18 while Meghan’s was +6 in polling of U.S. adults for Newsweek by Redfield & Wilton. Prince William’s was +36 while Kate’s was +43.
Jack Royston is chief royal correspondent for Newsweek, based in London. You can find him on Twitter at @jack_royston and read his stories on Newsweek‘s The Royals Facebook page.
Do you have a question about King Charles III, William and Kate, Meghan and Harry, or their family that you would like our experienced royal correspondents to answer? Email Support@springupdates.com. We’d love to hear from you.