A new internet conspiracy theory has emerged, claiming that the follower counts on the official Instagram accounts for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have been purposely altered.
The theory, outlined in an in-depth investigation published by The New York Times, arose based on the belief that the Sussex Royal Instagram account, led by Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, should have overtaken the Kensington Royal account, which chronicles the lives of Kate Middleton and Prince William, in terms of followers.
The expectation Meghan and Harry’s account would grow bigger became likely, and expected, as the royal couple used the platform to share details of their lives - such as the birth of their first child and their decision to step back as senior members of the royal family.
“Tabloid writers and royal reporters began to forecast the moment that @SussexRoyal’s follower count would overtake @KensingtonRoyal’s, thus crowning Harry and Meghan the definitive winners of an unofficial couples’ popularity contest,” New York Times’ Caity Weaver wrote, adding that it seemed “inevitable” considering Meghan and Harry “towered over William and Kate” on Google.
However, despite setting a Guinness world record for reaching 1m followers faster than any other account on the social media platform when it was created on 2 April, the Sussex Royal account has not surpassed its counterpart in followers. Currently, both accounts have 11.2m followers.
“Every day, without exception, from April 2, 2019, until Jan 21, 2020 - through Guinness world record growth, the birth of Harry and Meghan’s baby Archie, and the seismic rupture that was their public departure from royal life - the size of Harry and Meghan’s Instagram audience failed to exceed that of William and Kate’s,” Weaver wrote.
According to the investigation, the inability of Sussex Royal to acquire more followers than the Kensington Royal account, no matter what content is shared, suggests possible manipulation - through the use of bots or by the social media platform itself.
Possible explanations outlined by Weaver include: the possibility that more people simply want to follow Prince William and Kate Middleton, that perhaps Kensington Royal is given better placement on Instagram’s “Who To Follow” list, that the more popular account was the “beneficiary of a concentrated fan-driven campaign to keep its numbers high, that Sussex Royal’s success may have been initially supplemented with bots, or that Kensington Royal has been receiving follower boosts in the form of bots.
The investigation does note, however, that the Sussex Royal account found itself in the lead on 21 January. But by 17 February, the Kensington Royal Instagram again had more followers.
On social media, the conspiracy that something or someone is manipulating the follower counts of the royal Instagram accounts has resonated with other people who are confident that Sussex Royal should be in the lead.
“Well done, Caity! It’s about time the world knew what was going on,” one person tweeted in response to the article.
Another person was more direct in their conclusion. “Kensington Royal is clearly manipulating the numbers. We’ve been saying that for months,” they wrote.
The Independent has contacted Instagram for comment.