Prince Harry thinks social media is harmful, until he can profit from it

Last week, Fast Company published a Q&A with Prince Harry about social media, extremism, and his strategy to make the world a better place. Harry made some good points about social media and the harm it can bring to people on micro and macro levels. He also made some classic Sussex mistakes. Let’s talk about it.

It was a softball interview

This type of interview is what I like to call a Beyoncé interview. The questions and answers were controlled and the stakes were low. When Beyoncé wants to be on the cover of a magazine to promote something, she knows that the power imbalance between a magazine and her always lands in her favour. So she never has to sit down for a no-holds-barred interview. She never has to answer uncomfortable questions. She will give you some answers to questions that were vetted in advance, or she will have a friend or admirer write about how great she is. It’s extremely controlled and she will only tell you what she wants you to know. This is one of those kinds of interviews.

Harry and Meghan have a friendly relationship with Fast Company going back to last year. Harry wrote about the harms of social media for the website last summer. Because it’s in a Q&A format, you’d better believe that Fast Company gave these questions to Harry ahead of time and then asked for email responses back. This means that Harry (more likely Harry and his team of advisors and publicists) was able to craft thoughtful answers and clean up any possible messes before they were published. This is the safest possible way forward for Harry in terms of soundbites. The format of the interview, however, shows more about him and his thinking than the answers to the questions do. So do the fawning tweets from Katharine Schwab, the author of the published interview:

Harry talks about how awful social media is and follows it up with how amazing social media can be

Harry speaks about how social media can negatively impact people’s lives on a small and large scale:

We have seen time and again what happens when the real-world cost of misinformation is disregarded. There is no way to downplay this. There was a literal attack on democracy in the United States, organised on social media, which is an issue of violent extremism. It is widely acknowledged that social media played a role in the genocide in Myanmar and was used as a vehicle to incite violence against the Rohingya people, which is a human rights issue. And in Brazil, social media provided a conduit for misinformation which ultimately brought destruction to the Amazon, which is an environmental and global health issue.

Prince Harry, Fast Company, 2021

But that’s followed up with:

The truth is, despite its well-documented ills, social media can offer a means of connecting and community, which are vital to us as human beings. We need to hear each other’s stories and be able to share our own. That’s part of the beauty of life. And don’t get me wrong; I’m not suggesting that a reform of the digital space will create a world that’s all rainbows and sunshine, because that’s not realistic, and that, too, isn’t life…

We will revisit social media when it feels right for us—perhaps when we see more meaningful commitments to change or reform—but right now we’ve thrown much of our energy into learning about this space and how we can help.

Prince Harry, Fast Company, 2021

I understand what he’s trying to say, but PR isn’t the place for nuance. You can’t say “This is awful and Meghan and I are taking a stand against it” and follow it with “But it’s okay if you use social media, and I will definitely use social media publicly in the future to further my personal and professional ambitions.” They look like flip-floppers. Just like when Harry announced sustainable tourism endeavour Travalyst and then took a bunch of private jets around the world. Consistency is key and the Sussexes are bad at it.

Welcome to the pity party

Harry spoke again about the hatred that he and Meghan felt through their romance:

I was really surprised to witness how my story had been told one way, my wife’s story had been told one way, and then our union sparked something that made the telling of that story very different.

That false narrative became the mothership for all of the harassment you’re referring to. It wouldn’t have even begun had our story just been told truthfully.

Prince Harry, Fast Company, 2021

Listen. I know that Harry and Meghan have had a rough time with the press. They were unfairly targeted for a bunch of BS reasons, including Meghan’s skin colour. None of that is okay. But I don’t understand why, both separately and together, they keep bringing up the fact that people and tabloids are critical of them. People and tabloids are critical of everyone in the British royal family, warranted or not. The other thing that’s odd about this is: What false narrative is Harry talking about? If it’s the mothership of all harassment against Meghan and Harry, shouldn’t I, a royal obsessive, know to what he’s referring? But I don’t. This quote confuses me and, like the format of the interview, this quote speaks way more loudly about Harry’s anxieties than I think he would want it to.

I also don’t understand who it helps to tell people that if the press had only told their love story “truthfully”, none of this harassment would have begun. First of all, that’s not true! They would have been harassed either way! Second, why does it even matter? Why are you letting it get to you? Who cares what people or the press think? You’re worth tens of millions of dollars, live in a mansion, and have a grandmother who is LITERALLY THE QUEEN OF ENGLAND. Kate’s been called a gold digger, commoner trash, and 100 other awful names by members of the public and the press. But do you think she’s reading comments on the Daily Mail about it? No! She’s living her life in Anmer Hall. She does her work and lets that speak for itself. But Harry and Meghan just can’t leave it alone.

It feels like Harry and Meghan are blinded by any negative story about themselves. They can’t help but bring up how maligned they’ve been. Some of that frustration is totally warranted. But this just feels…unnecessary. And, if we’re being honest, pretty yikes.

Even the most controlled PR from the Sussexes is messy

For the reasons noted above, this interview should have been a slam dunk for Harry. There were definitely some eloquent moments in it. However, when I went to the interview author, Katharine Schwab’s, Twitter page to look around, I saw this tweet was pinned to the top of her Twitter account:

This tweet was posted on July 2, 2020, which is before both of Harry’s sanctioned articles on Fast Company. It’s about the rampant discrimination against Black women in tech, and particularly at Pinterest. Remember that Christine Schirmer, Harry and Meghan’s newly hired Head of Communications for both the Office of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and the Archewell Foundation, was most recently Head of Global Communications for…Pinterest. Y’all, I’m so tired.

So Harry and Meghan decided to hire a (white-presenting?) Head of Communications for themselves and their charitable foundation who, for the past 6 years, was Global Head of Communications at a company known for discriminating against Black women? Mess. Moving on.

Final thoughts

  • Harry continues to write his name incorrectly. It should either be Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex or The Duke of Sussex. He writes it as Prince Harry, The Duke of Sussex.
  • If Harry and Meghan are obsessed with taking down traditional social media like Facebook, why did Meghan accept a paid gig speaking to the Girl Up Summit last year, which also paid Facebook Chief Operating Officer and certified terrible person Sheryl Sandberg to speak?

You can read that article here.

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2 thoughts on “Prince Harry thinks social media is harmful, until he can profit from it

  1. Thank you for highlighting this “interview,” and, in particular, how he obviously was submitted questions well in advance and his team wrote answers. Anyone who has followed Harry over the years knows that he does not speak this articulately.
    Their issue with social media is interesting as it shows they clearly read Tweets and Posts people make. I can imagine it’s hurtful, but 90% of the posts and comments are questioning things that they have done. They are not infallible. The 10% that is racist and misogynist is disgusting.
    I can truthfully say I have always liked the Sussexes until Meghan’s elaborate baby shower. I thought it was entertaining watching the Pap Walks she and her friends were taking until Harry went to a charity that provides lunches to school kids who are on school break. He came out and suggested that people donate to provide lunches to these kids. Worthy charity, however, bad messaging, especially when his wife was being feted by her millionaire friends who could have easily donated to Harry’s charity, providing lunches to thousands of kids for years. I thought it was so hypocritical, and it just escalated from there with their private jets and constant complaining about their luxurious life.
    I’ve always thought they had the worst PR people imaginable, but I now think they are the ones who call the shots. They take sound advice and do what they want, and that’s not something that works with people in the public eye. It’s always a mess with them, and that’s such a shame as they had such promise working with the Royal Family. Now, they just look like hangers on, trying to be the cool kids who don’t follow the rules, hoping that people will still find them relevant.

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  2. Hi, reading your analysis, I was left thinking about the false narrative thing he’s complaining about. I have to conclude that H and M are aware of all the wild rumors about M that circulate online: that she never actually graduated from college, that this was probably due to a sorority incident when in an initiation ritual she glued the eyelids of 2 recruits and they almost end up blind, the crazy rumor that her mother Doria served prison time and that’s why M had to live for a few years with her dad (hard to believe she could have the power to hide something like that from the UK tabloids the whole year before marrying H), the even wilder rumor that she and H had to use a surrogate to have Archie, including faking the pregnancy for the public (and alledgedly that’s why she touched her belly so much, one can only roll one’s eyes to that), and that’s why they didn’t anounce the birth until they were back at Frogmore. There are also rumors about her first marriage and other things, and these rumors are the only thing I can see as a mayor “false narrative”. But like you said, there comes a point when you have to start ignoring all the noise and move on, otherwise you will spend the rest of your live getting outraged and answering every single little thing. The Royal House figured this out, and that’s why they normally don’t comment anything (to the point that sometimes you feel they should address some things they don’t react to, clearly H and M thought that, but when you look at the big picture there aren’t many alternatives). I also agree they would have been harrassed by the press in any case, and H clearly didn’t registered / doesn’t care the level of harrasment Kate went through a good chunk of those 9 years she dated William (like Robert Lacey said, William was auditioning her for a role, and in the meantime the press mocked her several times). H and M seemed to think this only happened to them or that they are the ones to have had it worst, when we can argue that Diana had it worst, maybe even Fergie. As for they hiring the Pinterest lady, or M speaking in the same event as Sheryl Sandberg, it only goes to show they don’t do a proper vetting of people or events, which will keep landing them in troubles. From H we can understand it and even expect it because he grew up in a sheltered enviroment, he might have purchased his own groceries while in KP or fought along soldiers of other social classes but he was still sheltered and clearly ignorant of a lot of things, but one would think a late 30-something year old Meghan with world experience would be more astute. I don’t know exactly what has Sheryl Sandberg done as a person but I do know she’s Facebook CEO and I know what Facebook has mainly done as a company, how they resisted regulators and public opinion in the US, Europe and other places. I know Sheryl Sandberg is, as you said, a Certified Terrible Person. So how come Meghan doesn’t know this, or H? That so called research in social media and self-education, where are the results if you still don’t know this? It goes to show they continued to be badly advised or, they aren’t following any advise because they believe too much in their own self-sufficiency.

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