The misinformation trolls came out in force when the queen died, intent on causing emotional distress or stirring political unrest.
No sooner was the death of Queen Elizabeth II announced than the monarch became the centre of false and misleading posts online.
They included unfounded claims that the COVID-19 vaccine was the cause of death, QAnon conspiracies alleging a murder plot and TikTok videos suggesting Irish dancers took to Buckingham palace to celebrate the news.
“Its not a surprise that this would be a target,” said Daniel Guenther, Manitoba co-chair of Monarchist League of Canada.
“But I think this topic, with her majesty’s passing, is an opportunity to reflect on how disrespectful it can also be. It doesn’t matter who would be passing away.”
Despite the online ruckus, Guenther says the “outpouring of support” far outweighed the amount of misinformation.
He also feels many in the online sphere have learned to spot misinformation and question viral info and media without falling into the trap of sharing it.
That doesn’t mean the Queen’s devotees walk away unscathed, though.
Queen misinformation ‘weighs’ on devoted public
Admiration for the Monarch became evident with thousands of mourners lined up for miles in a 24-hour-long queue outside Westminster Hall to pay their respects.
“When you think about the Queen or the Royal Family, this is not just a celebrity or a group of celebrities,” Jim Houran, a research psychologist based in Dallas, Texas, told Global News. “This is an institutionalized form of national identity.”
Houran has spent years studying people’s attachment to public figures.
He says Queen Elizabeth II embodied a family member for many of her subjects — a mother or grandmother figure. It’s a connection many outside the British realm may not understand, he adds.
“This is someone that has been in their lives for 70-something years. She usually addressed the public during a time of national mourning, or a time of national celebration. So there is this feeling that ‘This person has been there during the times that have personally affected me.’ It’s easy to see how someone feels as if they know and have a relationship with someone that they actually don’t really know.”
This connection means that false or unfounded claims about the queen or the royal family may feel like a personal transgression, Houran said. It could even kickstart a “fight or flight” response.
“They’re like extended family members. So when someone offends the queen, we feel offended ourselves, and we will rise up to defend that family member.”
“It can weigh on the psychology of a person. Their self-esteem might start taking a hit. It may make them question their own identity or sense of purpose, and that causes stress — either depression or anxiety.”
Silence on colonial crimes may fuel royal conspiracies, critics say
For decades, the royals have been the centre of hundreds of conspiracies. Queen Elizabeth herself has been rumoured to have died multiple times.
Some of the most popular theories, like the monarchy allegedly having a hand in Princess Diana’s death, remain unfounded, but they have resurfaced in the wake of the queen’s death.
With the queen’s alleged efforts to conceal her wealth from the public, and the monarchy’s failures to address pressing issues like the empire’s violent colonialism, such criticism doesn’t come as a surprise to a Western University researcher.
“As much as it’s a cornerstone of Canada’s legal and constitutional framework, it’s highly controversial and powerful,” said Samuel Routley, a PhD student in political science. “The institution’s need to stay above the fray, maintain neutrality, and stay unblemished to maintain legitimacy means that they have an interest in hiding some things,” he told Global.
The lack of accountability gives those looking to spread misinformation an upper hand. Conspiracies and rumours can be weaponized, says Routley, by anti-monarchist movements.
“When you have any institution in that position, you’ll have a set of interests working to delegitimize it.”
Queen’s death reignites calls for accountability, abolition of monarchy
Movements looking to do right by Indigenous people, or those looking to abolish the monarchy as a whole, have been even more vocal about their stance following the Queen’s death.
Several nations are already hinting at breaking free from the Commonwealth. And calls for Britain to return ‘stolen’ diamonds in the Queen’s crown and sceptre have grown.
Many are voicing concern that the queen’s death and her family’s grief ought to be respected, but all the tributes and processions for her do not negate their feelings about what she represented — a colonial institution with negative effects that many nations are still coping with.
“100 per cent we need to be talking about this. We are allowed to question the monarchy. This is what democracy is all about,” said Guenther.
But the Monarchist League says the Queen couldn’t be publicly vocal about the actions done in her name.
“I would never defend any of these decisions,” said Guenther. “But I think where Queen Elizabeth differs is that she is the Monarch.’
As such, he argues, she is only one part of the government of the United Kingdom, adding, the elected part of the United Kingdom would have be responsible for the political decisions.
However, the prime minister — many prime ministers throughout her reign — did meet with the queen every week to discuss government business, and she reviewed briefing papers daily with ample opportunity to discuss serious issues such as apartheid and Brexit.
Nonetheless, asserts Guenther, when it comes to “atrocities or terrible things happening, she’s equally bound to not publicly disagree with those things.”
Her efforts to connect with the public, and “modernize” the monarchy, embodied a desire to stand up against its actions, even if she couldn’t voice that herself, Guenther suggests.
Canada’s future as Commonwealth nation
While realms like Jamaica and Antigua and Barbuda have already kickstarted the process to sever ties to the monarchy, such a movement does not seem to be picking up steam in Canada.
A lot of the factors that upheld the monarchy in Canada when Elizabeth became queen have “withered away,” said Routley. Now many Canadians just view the institution with apathy.
That means disinformation spread with intent to abolish the monarchy probably won’t achieve said goal, Routley believes.
The “sheer cost” of breaking away, he adds, would also deter politicians. The federal and provincial governments would need to approve it. A decision would then need to be made about the structure of government. Who or what would replace the monarch as Head of State. This could open up a fight over federal-provincial powers and raise the spectre of Quebec sovereignty again.
With inflation and rising cost of living occupying peoples’ minds, Routley suspects Canada’s economy will take centre stage in today’s politics — not the status of the country’s sovereign.