OPINION - I waded through the Kate conspiracies and they show the internet at its very worst

Kate, the Princess of Wales with her three children celebrating Mother's Day (Kensington Palace)
Kate, the Princess of Wales with her three children celebrating Mother's Day (Kensington Palace)

Over the past month, the internet has gone wild over the conspiracy theories surrounding the Princess of Wales’ absence in a way that can only be described as feral. Social media is like a dog with its catch — jaw locked, foaming at the mouth, a maddened glint in our eyes.

To begin with, it seemed like a gleeful, harmless pursuit. No one was actually taking it seriously. The internet hypotheses were ridiculous and knowingly unrealistic: Kate’s recovering from a Brazilian butt lift, Kate’s covering a shift at the car crash Willy Wonka experience in Glasgow, Kate’s set to be a surprise contestant on Celebrity Big Brother. The dumber the better.

Then, when the royals attempted to confront the situation by releasing a new photo of Kate for Mother’s Day and the image was revealed to be doctored, the internet’s grip tightened. The public could smell blood. There was something to hide. Suddenly, those who had never engaged with royal gossip beyond liking and sharing flippant memes were stepping into the shoes of those insane, middle-England, Facebook group-posting royal conspiracists — the kind who believe that Charles isn’t Harry’s real father and Pippa Middleton wore a “fake butt” to Kate and Will’s wedding (neither true, but both real conspiracies).

These more sinister, serious Katespriacies gained enough traction to make it out of the internet realm and into real life, to the point now where the majority of people in the UK have seen them, according to a recent poll by YouGov. This is where it gets concerning. If something is enjoyable or scandalous enough, it cuts through, even if it’s fake news. While Kate’s absence might have legs — or, one leg, in the form of the doctored photo — its various conspiracy theories are still demonstrably untrue. And if the British public can be led to believe that Kate Middleton is genuinely using a body double to fake her most recent sighting at a farm shop in Windsor, what will happen when another vaccine conspiracy roles around? Or 5G? Or political propaganda?

Do you know how bad things have to get for a Kate Middleton impersonator to call something crazy?

A good portion of people were genuinely convinced by the Twitter theory that the image of Kate in that Mother’s Day shoot was lifted from her 2016 Vogue cover, and even more have engaged with the Atlanta-based TikTokker who confidently asserted that the original picture was actually taken in November. Even the body double theories have taken root, so much so that a Kate Middleton impersonator has had to denounce the conspiracies as “crazy.” Do you know how bad things have to get for a Kate Middleton impersonator to call something crazy? And what really separates us from the Piers Corbyn crazies if we start to take insane, unverified information like this as gospel?

Not only does it expose the gullibility of the general public, but also their ruthlessness. Royal or not, Kate is a real person, and what will eventually be revealed, or become clear through the breadcrumbing of actual facts through palace PR, is likely to be something far sadder than these theories make it out to be. Cases of intense public interest can be incredibly dangerous, as we know all too well. And yet, it feels as though the public are willfully neglecting to see the parallels between Kate and Diana. Like all internet pile-ons, people will only realise that it was too much when it's too late.

And look, I’m far from a royalist. Do I think this month has raised questions about the royal family’s lack of transparency? That we need to address their selective, calculated releases of information? Yes, of course I do. But I don’t think Kate, right now, is a wound to keep picking at. If we stick by Occam's razor, what’s most likely is that a whole world just pressed its face against the hospital window of a woman recovering from major surgery. And we will regret it.

Maddy Mussen is an Evening Standard writer