March 25, 2024 - 1:00pm

Meghan Markle was let off the hook this morning as the Telegraph reapportioned blame for the spreading of harmful rumours about the Princess of Wales’s health to the governments of China, Russia and Iran. Today’s front page stated that the three states are “fuelling disinformation” following Kate’s public admission of her cancer diagnosis. No evidence is provided for this claim, though unnamed “senior Government figures” are cited as a source.

The Sino-Russian incursion into the Royal drama is well-timed, as Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden is set to say in Parliament today that Beijing is responsible for cyber-attacks on UK voter data, having accessed the personal details of up to 40 million Britons. The Government is also preparing further sanctions on Xi Jinping’s country. Could Whitehall be using the very real threat of Chinese information warfare to jump to some unsubstantiated conclusions?

Yesterday Imran Ahmed, CEO of the Centre for Countering Digital Hate, claimed that the Princess had been “revictimised” following the release of her recorded message about her health on Friday. Commentators have argued that Kate’s disclosure was forced by speculation over her whereabouts, which was itself kick-started by controversy over a photograph of her and her three children published on Mothering Sunday earlier this month. When multiple prominent news agencies removed the picture from circulation due to fears of “manipulation”, the rumour mill went into overdrive, as online accounts came up with theories about the severity of the Princess’s health and the status of her marriage to Prince William.

The various “Katespiracies” largely originated on social media and were then spread further in the British press, despite the same publications turning to hasty moralising about “shameless trolls” in recent days. Memes about the Princess using a body double for a sighting in Windsor reached millions of accounts on X and TikTok, and then received further coverage in outlets such as the BBC. Until this week, there was no suggestion that foreign states were involved in spreading malicious rumours about Kate.

When public figures such as actress Blake Lively and commentator Owen Jones have apologised for circulating jokey posts before the Princess’s announcement, and papers have “unmasked” TikTok users supposedly behind the theories, there should be little mystery about the source of the Katespiracies, yet the Telegraph has quoted anonymous sources blaming hostile foreign actors without providing any proof. Its claims have now been picked up by numerous other outlets.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Labour leader Keir Starmer have both publicly criticised the scrutiny placed on the Princess of Wales, but no senior figure from either main party has so far put their name to accusations levelled against the Kremlin or CCP. Speaking on a broadcast round this morning, Energy Minister Andrew Bowie refused to confirm the allegations. One Government source told the Daily Mail that these foreign states “don’t necessarily make things up […] What they do is amplify it.” At the time of writing, the Mail’s website features over a dozen articles from today concerning Kate’s diagnosis and earlier online speculation about her.

The Princess will at least have some support from a family member based across the pond. Earlier this month, the Duchess of Sussex claimed that “we’ve forgotten our humanity” when using social media. “You just think about that and really wrap your head around why people would be so hateful,” Meghan said. “It is not catty, it is cruel.”

is UnHerd’s Assistant Editor, Newsroom.