Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex: ‘If you listen to what I actually say, it’s not controversial’


Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, is familiar with online misinformation. Over the past four years, the actor turned duchess turned activist has been the subject of fascination—and extreme scrutiny—across the Internet.

Breaking through that toxicity online to build healthier communities in digital spaces is now a focus of her work with her husband, Prince Harry. Through their new Archewell Foundation, the couple are working with other organizers and activists to address the negative side of social media, from its effects on individuals’ mental health to the systemic consequences of disinformation on platforms like Facebook. Prince Harry first spoke out about toxic digital behavior in 2016, when the duchess was subject to racist attacks online as she entered the global spotlight.

In her own life, Meghan told Fortune’s Ellen McGirt, the times when stories about her have spiraled out of control have stemmed from that misinformation. “If you look back at anything I’ve said, what ends up being inflammatory is people’s interpretation of it,” the duchess said at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit, which kicked off Tuesday. “But if you listen to what I actually say”—like encouraging Americans to vote—”it’s not controversial.”

Meghan spoke to Fortune’s MPW community, who gathered virtually for the summit, from her new home in California. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex began their work on this issue this year, after leaving their positions as full-time working members of the royal family and moving to North America, first to Canada and then to the United States.

The pair found that reforming online spaces—by connecting with everyone from tech company CEOs to grassroots activists—sat at the intersection of their interests, which spanned veterans’ issues, mental health, and gender equality. “It’s like taking two steps forward and five steps backward,” the duchess said of doing work to address those needs in the physical world without fixing the way these problems are discussed online.

This summer the duo joined the Stop Hate for Profit campaign, which encouraged advertisers to withhold their advertising dollars from social media companies, especially Facebook, as a way to push those companies to address hate and toxic behavior on their platforms. The boycott specifically responded to the police killing of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter movement, and racist hate speech online.

“It’s not about trying to take down Facebook, for example,” Meghan said during Tuesday’s discussion. “If the changes that are being made are in fact made, it’s for the good of everyone, Facebook included.” But, she added, change has to be long term. “We can’t have this slap on the wrist,” Meghan said.

By addressing everything from hate speech to the way social media platforms shape the lives of children and young adults, Meghan—and her husband—hope to propel forward their work on other issues, from gender equity to mental health. “We can all see it and feel it,” the duchess said of the problem with so many digital spaces today. “Whether we are directly involved in the online world or not, it’s felt globally. And we know that it’s not sustainable the way that it is.”

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