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Meghan Markle Talks Social Media’s Dangers at SXSW: ‘There Is So Much Work to Be Done in Terms of Keeping People Safe’

Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, is speaking out against the dangers of social media.

Speaking on a SXSW panel called “Breaking Barriers, Shaping Narratives: How Women Lead On and Off the Screen,” held on International Women’s Day, Markle was asked about her personal experience with online “toxicity.”

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“Yes, social media is an environment that has a lot of that [toxicity] …I keep my distance from it right now just for my own wellbeing,” she said.

She shared that she received the most negatives comments online when she was pregnant with her two children and parenting them as newborns.

“You have to really wrap your head around why people would be so hateful. It’s not catty — it’s cruel,” she said. “And certainly when you’re pregnant or you have a newborn, as moms you know it’s such a tender and sacred time. And you can either succumb to it or nearly succumb to how painful it is. And maybe in some regards, that mammalian instinct just kicked in: ‘Do everything you can to protect your child’ and as a result protect yourself too.”

Markle also discussed her discomfort with how often women target other women online.

“As we look at what’s happening in social media, there is so much work to be done in terms of keeping people safe. That starts as we see what’s happening with children and their exposure to things. But also just creating these habits — that what I find the most disturbing, frankly, especially as a supporter of women, is how much of the hate is women completely spewing that to other women. And I cannot make sense of that.”

Markle shared that the Archewell Foundation, which she founded with her husband, Prince Harry, works with the organization Social Media Victims Law Center, calling it “heartbreaking work.”

She explained, “It’s parents whose children have taken their lives because of what was happening to them in the online space. And the level of online harms that are there when you have these beautiful vibrant children that are either being so aggressively bullied online or, frankly, these young girls that are going online and they’re drowning in this world of comparison that suddenly their sense of self has become so small that they don’t see a value in being alive. So we’ve worked really actively with these parents to be there with them in their grief but also in the interest of affecting change.”

Fellow panelist Katie Couric also shared statistics related to the tangible consequences of social media use, saying “The impact of social media on girls’ mental health is equivalent to binge drinking.”

Speaking on tech companies complicit in these tragedies, Couric said, “It’s clear that their bottom line is much more important than the mental health of American kids.”

Markle implicitly referenced YouTube when she said, “This [panel] is being streamed on one of those platforms. Because people are going to have access to hear all of this brilliance and all of this insight. And at the same time it’s a platform that has quite a bit of hate and rhetoric and incentivizes people to create pages where they can churn our very, very inciting comments and conspiracy theories that can have a tremendously negative effect on someone’s mental health, their physical safety. So I think we have to really take a look at that.”

While later praising the work of Netflix chief content officer Bela Bajaria, Markle called out female media executives who sit by and watch this mental health crisis unfold. She encouraged them to make “systemic changes” while encouraging everyone to make a simultaneous “cultural change.”

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