Misinformation about Queen’s death can cause emotional and political upheaval: experts
The misinformation never stops – and the subject of the latest online conspiracies comes as no surprise to some.
No sooner was Queen Elizabeth II’s death announced than the monarch became the center of false and misleading messages online.
From unsubstantiated claims that the COVID-19 vaccine was the cause of death, to QAnon conspiracies alleging a murder plot, to TikTok videos suggesting Irish dancers traveled to Buckingham Palace to celebrate the news.
The conspiracies don’t stop at the Queen. Everyone from Donald Trump to Meghan Markle has been roped in.
« It’s no surprise he’s been a target, » said Daniel Guenther, Manitoba co-chair of the Monarchist League of Canada.
« But I think this subject, with the passing of Her Majesty, is an opportunity to reflect on how disrespectful it can also be. It doesn’t matter who would pass away.
Despite the heckling online, Guenther says the « outpouring of support » far outweighed the amount of misinformation.
He also believes that many actors in the online sphere have learned to spot misinformation and question viral news and the media without falling into a trap or sharing it.
This does not mean that the faithful of the queen come out unscathed.
The Queen’s misinformation ‘weighs down’ on a devoted audience
In what was arguably one of the most visible shows of support during the period of mourning – admiration for the monarch became evident with thousands of mourners lining up for miles in a 24 hour queue hours in front of Westminster Hall to pay homage to him.
« When you think of the Queen or the Royal Family, it’s not just one celebrity or a group of celebrities, » Jim Houran, a research psychologist based in Dallas, Texas, told Global News.
« It’s already 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 to many of her subjects – a mother or grandmother figure. It’s a connection that many outside the UK may not understand, he adds.
« She’s someone who’s been in their life for 70 years. She would usually address the public during a time of national mourning or a time of national celebration. So there’s this feeling that ‘this person has been there for the moments that affected me personally.’ It’s easy to see how someone feels like they know – and have a relationship with – someone they don’t actually really know.
A Montrealer lights up TikTok while queuing to commemorate Queen Elizabeth II
A Montrealer lights up TikTok while queuing to commemorate Queen Elizabeth II
This link means that false or unsubstantiated allegations about the queen or the royal family can look like a personal transgression, Houran said. It might even trigger a “fight or flight” response.
“They are like extended family members. So when someone offends the queen, we feel offended ourselves and we will stand up to defend that family member.
“It can weigh on a person’s psychology. Their self-esteem might start to take a hit. This can cause them to question their own identity or sense of purpose, and it causes stress – either depression or anxiety.
Silence on colonial crimes could fuel royal conspiracies, critics say
For decades, the royal family has been at the center of hundreds of conspiracies. According to some rumors, Queen Elizabeth herself died several times.
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Some of the most popular theories, like the monarchy having a hand in Princess Diana’s death, remain unsubstantiated, but have resurfaced in the wake of the Queen’s death.
But some say it’s no surprise the rumor mill is turning against the Royal Family. The « secrecy » of the family, according to some critics, can result in the public thinking they are « always being lied to ».
With the queen’s alleged efforts to hide her wealth from the public and the monarchy’s failures to address pressing issues like the empire’s violent colonialism, such criticism comes as no surprise to a Western University researcher.
Queen Elizabeth’s complicated and ‘ambivalent’ relationship with Indigenous Canadians
« Although it is a cornerstone of Canada’s legal and constitutional framework, it is highly controversial and powerful, » said Samuel Routley, a doctoral student in political science.
« The institution’s need to stay above the fray, maintain neutrality and remain untarnished to maintain its legitimacy means it has an interest in hiding certain things, » he told Global.
Routley notes that this applies to all institutions of the size and power of the monarchy. But the lack of accountability in this case gives the advantage to those who seek to spread misinformation.
Conspiracies and rumors can be weaponized, Routley says, by anti-monarchist movements.
“When you have an institution in that position, you will have a set of interests working to delegitimize it.”
Queen’s death reignites calls for accountability and abolition of monarchy
Movements seeking to do good for Indigenous peoples, or those seeking to abolish the monarchy as a whole, expressed their position even more after the Queen’s death.
Several nations are already hinting at the possibility of breaking free from the Commonwealth. Calls for Britain to release the ‘stolen’ diamonds from the Queen’s crown and scepter have grown.
Many worry that while the Queen’s death and her family’s grief are to be respected, all the tributes and processions for her do not negate their feelings about what she stood for – a colonial institution that many nations are still feeling the negative effects.
“100% we have to talk about it. We are allowed to question the monarchy. That’s democracy,” Guenther said.
But the Monarchist League said the Queen could not comment on actions taken on her behalf.
« I would never stand for any of those decisions, » Guenther said.
“But I think where Queen Elizabeth differs is – she’s the monarch, she’s just part of the government of the UK. The elected part of the UK – who would have been responsible for these political decisions.
“When there are atrocities or terrible things happening, she is also obligated not to publicly disagree with those things,” he adds.
The legacy of Queen Elizabeth II: a look back at the key moments of her historic reign
Guenther says there have been numerous rumors that the Queen has spoken her mind in private conversations with prime ministers, and that included speaking out on issues like apartheid South Africa and Brexit.
He also says his views were often made public through subtle but meaningful gestures.
It recounts the monarch’s meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in March, where a vase of blue and yellow flowers sat on the table, a nod to Ukrainian solidarity in the face of the Russian invasion.
Her efforts to connect with the public and « modernize » the monarchy embodied a desire to stand up against her actions, even if she couldn’t articulate it herself, Guenther said.
Still, some argue the Queen and the Royal Family had plenty of opportunities to acknowledge Britain’s colonial actions, in far more direct ways than simply « expressing sadness » over slavery.
Canada’s Future as a Commonwealth Country
While kingdoms like Jamaica and Antigua and Barbuda have already begun the process of severing all ties with the monarchy, such a move does not appear to be gaining momentum in Canada.
Many of the factors that sustained the monarchy in Canada when Elizabeth became queen « have faded away, » Routley said, and now many Canadians view the institution only with apathy.
That means misinformation spread with the intention of abolishing the monarchy is unlikely to achieve that goal, Routley believes.
The « pure cost » of the breakup, he adds, would also deter politicians from pursuing it. The federal government should approve it. It would then be necessary to decide who would replace the monarch as head of state, which would open up the controversies surrounding King Charles III and evoke similar, but unrelated movements, such as the sovereignty of Quebec.
With inflation and the rising cost of living on people’s minds, Routley suspects the Canadian economy will take center stage in political campaigns, not the country’s sovereignty.
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