Prince Harry accuses social media of stoking a 'crisis of hate'

Victoria Ward
·3-min read
Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, accused social media of being divisive - Getty Images Europe
Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, accused social media of being divisive - Getty Images Europe

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have spent the last month contacting the leaders of major corporations, lobbying them to withdraw advertising spending from "lawless" social media companies such as Facebook.

Prince Harry revealed that he and his wife have set their sights on “remodelling the architecture” of social media, warning that sweeping change is needed to protect mental health and stop the spread of misinformation.

In a 1,400-word opinion piece for US business magazine Fast Company, he said the cost of using social media use was “very high”, with personal data traded for profit in a “relatively lawless space”.

He questioned what such susceptibility to “the coercive forces in digital spaces” would mean for our children, adding: “As a father, this is especially concerning to me.”

The issue will become one of the main focuses of the couple’s longer term work through their non-profit organisation, Archewell.

The article, for which the Duke was not paid, is considered an introduction to the couple’s mindset as they plough their own furrow in Los Angeles, the Telegraph understands. 

The decision to focus on online behaviour was inspired in part by the work they have both undertaken in recent years on mental health and more recently by the civil and racial justice campaigns in the wake of the death of George Floyd.

In a speech last month, the Duchess urged teen girls and young women to drown out sometimes "painfully loud" negative online chatter with positivity.

The Duke warned in his article that online communities should be "defined more by compassion than hate; by truth instead of misinformation; by equity and inclusiveness instead of injustice and fearmongering; by free, rather than weaponised, speech."

He wrote: “A little over four weeks ago, my wife and I started calling business leaders, heads of major corporations, and chief marketing officers at brands and organisations we all use in our daily lives.

“Our message was clear: The digital landscape is unwell and companies like yours have the chance to reconsider your role in funding and supporting online platforms that have contributed to, stoked, and created the conditions for a crisis of hate, a crisis of health, and a crisis of truth.”

The pair stepped down from royal duties earlier this year - AFP
The pair stepped down from royal duties earlier this year - AFP

He called for meaningful digital reform, adding: “We’ve spoken with leaders across the racial justice movement, experts in humane tech, and advocates of mental health. And the collective opinion is abundantly clear: We do not have the luxury of time.”

The intervention coincided with the launch of the US-based Stop Hate for Profit campaign, which is putting mounting pressure on Facebook to tackle hate speech on its platform. In recent weeks, more than 1,000 companies, including adidas, Ford and Unilever, have withdrawn their advertising spend as a result.

Although the Sussexes support the campaign, their own work on the issue will be independent.

The Duke said that while social media was a seemingly free resource, ostensibly used for connecting, sharing and organising, the “price we’re all paying is much higher than it appears.”  

“Every time you click they learn more about you,” he wrote. “Our information, private data, and unknown habits are traded on for advertising space and dollars. 

“Whereas normally we’re the consumer buying a product, in this ever-changing digital world, we are the product.”

He said that he and his wife had “felt it necessary” to speak out about the rise of what he called an “unchecked and divisive attention economy” which could even drive people towards radicalism and extremism.

“This remodeling must include industry leaders from all areas drawing a line in the sand against unacceptable online practices as well as being active participants in the process of establishing new standards for our online world," he added.

In 2018, the Duke of Cambridge criticised technology giants, warning they were failing to protect children from the hate and bile of social media and out of their depth in tackling the negative side of their platforms.