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Online abuse and criticism of Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, and Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge has taken on unprecedented hostility on social media, with fans of Meghan Markle and Kate Middleton increasingly insulting the other duchess and criticizing fellow royal followers.

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Kensington Palace staff spend hours each week moderating racist and sexist comments, Hello Magazine reported Monday, saying the palace has sought advice from Instagram on dealing with abuse. Trolling has intensified, with some speculating that Meghan is faking her pregnancy and posting harsh commentary under hashtags such as #Megsy and #Megxit. Kate has been criticized as lazy, too thin and jealous of Meghan.

“Meghan has always received criticism, but I think the negative comments about her got much worse after she announced her pregnancy,” said Kristin Contino of the website Royally Broke, a year-old fashion and lifestyle blog that follows both duchesses. “And when the Sussexes announced they were moving to Windsor, all hell broke loose with the ‘feuding duchesses’ narrative in the media.”

“People can be quite vicious about the women themselves, and toward each other,” says Jane Barr, who launched the From Berkshire to Buckingham blog before Kate’s wedding to Prince William in 2011. “Interaction on my social media accounts is generally very positive. But, Meghan sparks extremely divisive comments from fans and foes. There are always ugly disputes when I post about Meghan.”

In November 2016, Prince Harry issued a statement denouncing the “abuse and harassment” Meghan, who was then his girlfriend, was facing, noting the “racial undertones of comment pieces; and the outright sexism and racism of social media trolls and in comment sections.” Later, in an interview announcing their engagement, Meghan called criticism of her mixed-race heritage “disheartening.”

When interest in Meghan spiked after the engagement, Susan Kelley, founder of the website What Kate Wore and co-editor of What Meghan Wore, initially noticed a sensitivity among readers. There was an influx of people new to following the royal family who wanted to learn about Meghan’s style and philanthropic interests, Kelley says.

But those sorts of discussions have died down, “in part because people are afraid to say anything, positive or negative, because they’re going to get jumped on by the other side,” Kelley says.

“There is a level of ugliness that I don’t even know how to describe. … It seems to have to be one or the other, [as if] you can’t like Meghan and Kate.”

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When Meghan and Harry joined Prince William and Kate for their first official joint event, many media outlets began calling them the “Fab Four.”

Over the months that followed, however, many fans coalesced around each woman individually rather than as a team. In the time leading up to the royal wedding, Kelley says she received pleas not to publish a site jointly dedicated to Kate and Meghan.

The antipathy only intensified after the wedding. Some royal followers complain about how Meghan touches her baby bump too much; others accuse her of being #TheCharlatanDuchess.

“Saying you don’t like Meghan’s dress is one thing, but saying she’s faking her pregnancy or doesn’t belong in the royal family is quite another,” says Contino.

It’s impossible to say precisely why so many royal fans have shifted toward aggressive commenting aimed at pitting the sisters-in law against each other, but the trend tracks with the general coarsening of online dialogue and growing use of social media. Kelley says discussion has changed noticeably in the last two years, coinciding with a more hostile public discourse across the political spectrum in both the United States and United Kingdom.

One royal commentator suggested last fall that Americans interested in Meghan but unfamiliar with U.K. cultural norms might perceive the royal family as akin to celebrities or politicians, and not understand that the British media considers the taxpayer-funded royals as fair game for “constructive criticism.”

Although many reporters, bloggers and royal fans have questioned the tendency to be Team Kate or Team Meghan, Barr suggests that “the idea that we can erase the natural tendency to compare is silly.”

“People compare — that’s what we do. You go to a cocktail party and you assess other women’s ensembles. … You judge what is cute and what is not, you adjust your own wardrobe accordingly. That is what drives fashion trends,” she says.

There is no reason to presume an animus between the women, she says, yet that “is what most fans seem to think when they see comparisons.”

“Frankly, I don’t understand it,” Kelley says. “If you don’t like something, can you not dislike it passively? Do you have to go and make comments about it?”

Kensington Palace rarely comments on stories, and in the absence of firm information, rumors take hold, sometimes based on as little as the interpretation of a body-language expert. Tabloid reports in recent months have speculated about a staff exodus sparked by a “demanding” Meghan and an allegation that Meghan made Kate cry over a bridesmaid dress fitting.

Click-bait headlines contribute to volatility and suggestions of media bias. A Daily Mail column last month on the environmental effects of avocado production was headlinedIs Meghan’s favourite snack fueling drought and murder?

Monitoring Facebook comments has become “almost consuming” for Kelley and her co-editor, Susan Courter. Many royal fans bicker over which duchess dresses more appropriately, or who is more “royal.”

Lost in perceptions of Meghan and Kate as rivals is the fact that degrading comments are antithetical to how both women advocate treating others.

“If you say anything that could remotely be construed as negative about either duchess, you’ll be attacked,” says Contino. “You don’t have to love both of them. … I just don’t see a reason to pit them against each other.”

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