The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have said there is an “overwhelming desire” for truth as they described the “global crisis” of misinformation that spreads online.
The couple talked about how the internet affected critical issues such as racial justice, gender equity, climate change and mental health, as they discussed how to create a safer digital world as part of Time100 Talks.
Meghan said: “It was only in the past couple of years we both started to connect the dots… all the work I was doing on women’s empowerment or young girls and their sense of self worth, and seeing what the online spaces were doing to that community.”
On the effects it had on campaigns he was passionate about, such as the environment, Harry said: “What I see is the digital space hampering the progress that needs to be made.
“This misinformation that seems to snowball from one place that is the online space and then ending up in our physical world, a lot of the time we don’t know where it comes from, we don’t know how to trace it back.”
He said the media’s role is “absolutely vital” in everything that is going on in the world, adding: “It always has been and always will be.
“I think there’s a huge amount of trust that we all put into media and digital platforms that sometimes is undermined.”
The duke continued: “There’s an overwhelming desire for everybody out there for truth, because there is so much information being thrown around from one side to the other.
“What is happening in the online world is affecting the world.
“It is not restricted to certain platforms or certain social media conversations or groups.
“This is a global crisis – a global crisis of hate, a global crisis of misinformation, and a global health crisis.”
The duchess said: “It can feel really overwhelming to try to understand all the nuance of what happens online.
“It is all-encompassing and it affects us at a multi-faceted level.”
The couple described how they have spoken to professors and experts in the field, some of whom they consider friends, to share ideas on how to make the online space “healthier and better for all of us”.
One of those people is Reddit co-founder and founder of 776 Alexis Ohanian – husband to tennis star Serena Williams – who was interviewed by Meghan during the discussion.
In June this year, Mr Ohanian announced his resignation from the board of the social media site, and urged the company to replace him with a black candidate.
He told Meghan he “made the right choice” for his mixed-race daughter Alexis Olympia Ohanian, but that he still received hate mail over it.
“I hope that this is really a first step for me to try and just be more deliberate in the work that I’m doing, and frankly more effective in the work that I’m doing, to create a better future for my daughter and lots of other people who look like her,” he said.
“Companies are going to be more successful the more diversity they have, because that means a broader range of ideas.”
The duchess agreed with this sentiment and described how they shared a similar experience with raising mixed race children.
“I’m sorry to hear you’re still receiving hate mail, I know we have shared experiences in being in an interracial marriage and raising small children who are mixed race and how that plays into that,” she said.
On the effect of social media, Meghan described how it can be damaging to people, saying: “The good outweighs the bad, but my goodness the bad can be so loud.”
While speaking to the co-founder of the Centre For Humane Technology Tristan Harris, who starred in Netflix’s The Social Dilemma, and Safiya Noble, UCLA Centre for Critical Internet Inquiry co-director, Harry said it can be “really confusing” to understand how the tech world works.
“I think so much of this is down to awareness,” he said, as he pointed to how the Netflix documentary – which highlights how social media users’ data is tracked – has “set records”.
Meghan added: “Admittedly we say ‘we don’t speak tech, this isn’t our world’ but my goodness we know the experience of being a human being.
“We know what it feels like to see the pain and the suffering, or the joy and all the goodness, that can come out of this worldwide web.”