Meghan Markle caused quite the stir on Tuesday when she made a bold comparison between social media users and drug addicts – but now her statement is making waves for a very different reason.
The 39-year-old Duchess of Sussex has been accused of ‘ripping off’ the ideology from Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma, an investigative movie that examines the hidden dangers of social media.
Shortly after the mother-of-one took part in Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Next Gen Virtual Summit yesterday, Twitter users were quick to point out that the comments she made about the dangers of social media addiction were almost identical to the ideas featured in the Netflix hit, with some even accusing Meghan of ‘plagiarism’.
Warning: Meghan Markle made a bold comparison between social media users and drug addicts during her latest virtual summit appearance on Tuesday
Copycat? Twitter users were quick to point out that the idea of social media being a ‘drug’ is something that was detailed at great length in new Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma
Awkward: The Duchess of Sussex, 39, was accused of ‘ripping off’ the documentary in her summit talk, with Twitter users slamming her for ‘plagiarizing’ the Netflix movie without credit
‘[Meghan] ripped off the Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma theory about [social media] users being like drug addicts and had the cheek to say she hasn’t been on it for years?’ one furious Twitter user wrote.
‘Meghan plagiarizes so casually, it’s become laughable now,’ one person added, while another wrote: ‘Someone clearly watched The Social Dilemma recently…’
One user chimed in to comment: ‘Meghan… plagiarized her quotes from the Social Dilemma (from Netflix).’
That user shared screengrabs from The Social Dilemma, pointing to one moment in the documentary when statistician Edward Tufte is quoted – with his words bearing a striking similarity to comments made by Meghan during her latest summit appearance.
‘There are only two industries that call their customers “users”: illegal drugs and software,’ his quote reads.
During her chat with Fortune associate editor Emma Hinchliffe, Meghan said something incredibly similar, warning participants: ‘There are very few things in this world where you call the person who’s engaging with it “a user”. People who are addicted to drugs are called users and people who are on social media are called users.’
The documentary also warns that ‘social media is a drug’, an idea that Meghan expanded upon in her virtual summit talk, saying that she believes social media had the ‘same capacity’ for causing addiction as drugs do.
The Social Dilemma also makes a point of examining the ways in which social media algorithms are specifically designed to encourage ‘addiction’, another point that was echoed by Meghan on Tuesday.
Spot the difference: One of the main points in Meghan’s talk was her comparison between social media users and drug users – a point that is highlighted in The Social Dilemma
Good idea! The Duchess’s points about social media addiction being similar to drug addiction made many people suggest that she had taken the idea from The Social Dilemma
They did it first: Meghan also spoke about the ‘algorithm’ being used to encourage social media addiction, another idea that is detailed in the movie, which turns the AI into a character
While the documentary illustrates this by bringing the ‘algorithm’ to life in the form of three characters who manipulate everything that a user sees in order to ensure that they stay engaged on social media for longer periods of time, and to force them to pick up their phone when they aren’t using it, whether that’s through a notification or a message.
The documentary dramatizes this concept with an actor playing a teenage boy who is being targeted by the algorithm characters; they manipulate his social media feeds in order to fuel his addiction to the websites.
Meghan succinctly summed up this concept during her virtual summit, saying: ‘There is something algorithmically that is in there that is creating this obsession that I think is very unhealthy for a lot of people.
‘I have a lot of concerns for people that have become obsessed with it and it is so much a part of our daily culture for so many people that it is an addiction.’
Even the Duchess’s most avid supporters called out the fact that her comments were incredibly similar to those made in The Social Dilemma, with one person suggesting that she was actively trying to ‘quote’ the documentary – despite the fact that the former Suits star did not mention the Netflix movie during her talk.
Interestingly, the Duchess of Sussex seemed to set herself apart from other social media users, telling Fortune associate editor Emma Hinchliffe that she has ‘not been on [it] for a very long time’ – despite sharing an official Sussex Royal account with Prince Harry for several years before they stepped down as senior royals.
Prior to meeting her now-husband Harry, 36, Meghan also spent many years managing her own personal social media accounts, which she often used to promote her work as an actress, as well as her now-defunct lifestyle blog The Tig.
Vocal: Speaking from the $14 million California home she shares with Prince Harry and their son Archie, Meghan warned people about the dangers of social media addiction
Obvious: Even some of Meghan’s supporters were quick to point out that she seemed to be ‘quoting’ the Netflix documentary – although she did not reference it, nor credit it at all
She shared many personal aspects of her life – including food photos and vacation snaps – and even alluded to her relationship with Prince Harry in its earliest days by sharing a photo of love hearts soon after the couple met for the first time.
When she took the decision to close down her social media accounts in 2018, after announcing her engagement to Prince Harry – Meghan had amassed 1.9 million followers on Instagram, and she also had an official Facebook and Twitter page that were both closed at the same time.
Meghan and Harry then began sharing near-daily posts on their official Sussex Royal Instagram account, which they set up to have their own social media presence away from Prince William and Kate’s Kensington Royal profile.
However, the mother-of-one told the summit that ‘for her own self preservation’ she ‘has not been on social media for a very long time’, insisting that she did not manage the Sussex Royal account, which was handled instead by a special team.
The former Suits star also seemed to deal a thinly-veiled blow to the royals, referring only to her husband’s family only as ‘the institution’ while discussing the couple’s official Instagram account, which was shut down shortly after they quit their roles and moved to the US.
‘We had [an Instagram account] through the institution and our office that was in the UK. But that wasn’t managed by us that was a whole team,’ Meghan said, adding that she has ‘made a personal choice to not have any account’.
‘I have made a personal choice to not have any account, so I don’t know what’s out there and in many ways that’s helpful for me,’ Meghan said of her decision not to engage with social media.
Meghan then went on to decry the ‘lasting effects’ of social media, telling the summit’s young participants: ‘I don’t even think people have started to scratch the surface of what [social media] is doing to us.’
Hypocritical? Interestingly, Meghan spent many years as an avid Instagram user, regularly posting personal photos on her account – which had 1.9 million followers when it was closed
Personal: The Duchess of Sussex insisted that ‘for her self preservation’ she no longer uses social media, having shut down her personal accounts in 2018 after her engagement
She urged people who are using the platform to build their brands or engage with their friends to ‘be conscious of what you’re doing’, adding: ‘Understand that it is not limited to that one moment, you are creating an echo chamber for yourself, so the more that you engage with things that are negative, not just for other people that you might not know, but what it’s doing to you as a human being.
‘It can really have lasting effects and that there is an alternative to engaging in that kind of stuff, so I would say just be really conscious and responsible.
Her warnings come just days after the mother-of-one claimed that she was the ‘most trolled person in the entire world in 2019’ while recording a podcast in honor of World Mental Health Day.
‘Now eight months of that I wasn’t even visible,’ Meghan said during the interview, which was released on Sunday. ‘I was on maternity leave or with a baby. But what was able to just be manufactured and churned out. It’s almost unsurvivable.’
But while Meghan discussed her experiences as being ‘almost unsurvivable’, she has not shied away from embracing a much more public-facing role since leaving the royal family.
Indeed, while she has not had a presence on social media for several months now, she has been happy to use other digital platforms to promote her ideas and beliefs, with the former actress taking part in dozens of virtual summits and appearances over the last six months.
This online event is the latest in a long line of summit appearances made by Meghan over the past six months – including a keynote speaker role at the Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit just two weeks ago.
In October alone, Meghan has made six digital appearances, from serving as a speaker at this latest virtual summit to her first podcast over the weekend to a pre-recorded conversation with Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai.
Criticism? While discussing the official Sussex Royal account she shared with Prince Harry, Meghan referred to the Royal Family only as ‘the institution’
Take care: Meghan urged people who are using social media platforms to build their brands or engage with their friends to ‘be conscious of what you’re doing’
Since stepping down from their roles as senior royals, both Meghan and Prince Harry have become increasingly outspoken about a range of hot-button issues, including Black Lives Matter and voter suppression.
However not all of the couple’s online talks have been without controversy.
At the end of September, the couple sparked furious backlash when they spoke out about the upcoming US election in a video for Time 100 that saw harry urge people to ‘reject hate speech’, while Meghan referred to the presidential race as ‘the most important election of our lifetime’.
Although the couple did not voice their support for one candidate in particular, their words made waves on both sides of the Atlantic and were seen as anti-Donald Trump, including by the President himself.
Their decision to make any statement about the presidential election is also in direct opposition to the royal family’s policy of maintaining political neutrality.
Last week, DailyMail.com exclusively revealed that Missouri Congressman Jason Smith was sending a letter to the British Ambassador to the United States asking that the Queen strip Harry and Meghan of their royal titles in response to their decision to ‘interfere’ in the election.
The congressman insisted in his letter that the Sussexes are using their royal titles to influence voters, and pointed out that the United States has expressed concerns about foreign interference in its elections.
‘As you know, the British Royal Family has long observed a policy of strict neutrality in regard to political matters. I am therefore concerned by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s recent comments regarding the United States Presidential Election, especially given international conversations surrounding foreign interference in our elections and the Duke’s status as a guest of the United States,’ he wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by DailyMail.com.
Smith called the couple’s actions ‘a serious breach of the British Royal Family’s policy of political neutrality and an inappropriate act of domestic interference by one of our closest allies.’
Platform: While Meghan has not had a social media presence in several months, she has not shied away from using other digital media to promote her ideology and beliefs
Making the rounds: During lockdown, Meghan has made dozens of appearances at digital summits, and has also filmed multiple video interviews
Spreading their wings? Both Meghan and Harry have become increasingly outspoken on hot-button topics like racial injustice and Black Lives Matter since leaving the Royal Family
The Queen controls Harry and Meghan’s titles but acts on the advice of the government – meaning it would be up to her to act against the couple, but that if the prime minister, Boris Johnson, were to ask her to do it, she would have to at least consider the request.
But during the latest Fortune summit, Meghan insisted that she has actually tried to avoid saying anything too ‘controversial’ – saying that she is ‘cautious of putting her family in a position of risk’ and therefore choosing topics of conversation that are ‘fairly straight forward’.
Ironically, she cited ‘the right to vote’ as being one of those issues, despite the recent backlash to the couple’s comments on the election.
‘I am cautious of putting my family in a position of risk by certain things, and so I try to be rather very clear with what I say and to not make it controversial, but instead to talk about things that seem fairly straight forward – like exercising your right to vote,’ she said.
‘I think that is as simple as it comes and as necessary as it comes.’
Meghan added that her son Archie is her main motivation for getting involved in a number of major issues, explaining that she feels she has a duty to ‘make [the world] a better place for him’.
After being asked whether motherhood has made her a more ‘courageous leader’, the Duchess replied: ‘It’s interesting because my gut is that it makes you more courageous.
‘It makes you so concerned for the world they’re going to inherit, and so the things that you’re able to tolerate on your own are not the same that you are going to put your child in a position of vulnerability for.
‘You go every single day, how can I make this better for him, how can I make this world better for Archie? And that is a shared belief between my husband and I.’
Priority: During her latest summit appearance, Meghan said that she feels an obligation to ‘make [the world] a better place’ for her one-year-old son Archie
She added: ‘As a parent I can enjoy all the fun and silliness and games with my son, but I wouldn’t be able to feel proud of myself as a mom if I didn’t know that I wasn’t doing my part to make it a better place for him.’
Meghan’s comments about avoiding controversy come just days after one royal expert and author claimed that she was actually courting controversy prior to the couple’s departure from the Royal Family at the start of this year.
Lady Colin – author of Meghan and Harry: The Real Story – claimed that the Duchess of Sussex believed being controversial was the only way to achieve her ambition of becoming the ‘most famous person on the planet’.
She suggested that in the year before Megxit, the former actress had – with her’s husband’s help – already been pursuing commercial and political activities traditionally out of bounds to the royals.
According to the author, this included the Duchess of Sussex telling her PR team that her ambition was to be the best known celebrity in the world, a mission that could only be realized by being ‘controversial’.
Speaking on Graham Norton’s BBC podcast, Lady Campbell said: ‘I started writing that book because last year I knew privately that Meghan – with Harry’s connivance – was getting up to all sorts of things in America that she was completely forbidden from doing as a royal.
‘Getting involved with commercial enterprises, flying kites in terms of politics, because she ‘s very political, and also instructing her PR people that they were to make her into the most famous person on earth.
‘To be the most famous person on earth, it’s a very deliberate policy and it has to involve a tremendous amount of controversy, otherwise you’re just not that famous.’