Prince Harry says he warned Twitter ahead of Capitol riot

Duke of Sussex also takes aim at media in panel discussion on misinformation

Britain's Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex poses as he arrives for the Sentebale concert in London, Britain, June 11, 2019. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Britain's Prince Harry said that on January 5, he warned Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey that his platform was allowing a coup to be staged against the US a day later.

Harry continued his feud with the media in an appearance on a panel discussing misinformation, and said the problem pre-dated social media.

“I learnt from a very early age that the incentives of publishing are not necessarily aligned with the incentives of truth,” the Duke of Sussex said.

Asked if he has spoken to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg or Mr Dorsey, Harry said he warned the Twitter chief that his website was enabling a coup on the eve of the January 6 riots at the US Capitol.

“Jack and I were emailing each other prior to January 6 when I warned him his platform was allowing a coup to be staged. That email was sent the day before," he said.

“And then it happened and I haven’t heard from him since.”

Supporters of former US president Donald Trump stormed the US Capitol building in Washington DC over claims that the election he lost was rigged.

The role social media giants played in enabling the attack is being investigated.

Twitter has been contacted for comment.

Harry, 37, who was listed as the co-founder of Archewell at the Re:Wired summit, works at the Aspen Institute think tank and looks into misinformation and disinformation in the media.

The prince, who lives in Southern California with Meghan and the couple’s two children, said the internet was “being defined by hate, division and lies”.

“That can’t be right, especially for anyone who has children,” Harry told the panel. “We’re allowing this future to be defined by the very here and now; by exactly that which is greed and profit and growth.

“I would hope as human beings, as individuals with the ability of choice and decision-making, they would worry more about people now, the safety of people, but also what this means for the internet, a free internet, but also what it means for the next generation and the generation after that and that and that and that.”

In his latest broadside at the British press, Harry invoked the memory of his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, and again said his wife, the Duchess of Sussex, was receiving similar treatment.

“They don’t report the news, they create it, and they’ve successfully turned fact-based news into opinion-based gossip with devastating consequences for the country," he said.

“So I know the story all too well. I lost my mother to this self-manufactured rabidness and obviously I’m determined not to lose the mother to my children to the same thing.”

Harry nodded to comments he made in a mental health series in which he appeared this year, where he said: “They won’t stop until she’s [Meghan's] dead."

“It was more of a warning, not a challenge,” he told the panel.

Harry said “the scale of misinformation now is terrifying” and warned that families were being “destroyed” by the problem.

Asked if users should delete their social media accounts, Harry said he and Meghan were not on any platforms and would not return until changes were made.

He said it “simply isn’t true” that the challenge of misinformation “is too big to fix, it’s too big to solve”.

Harry said he and his wife were the targets of a small group of accounts.

“More than 70 per cent of the hate speech about my wife on Twitter could be traced to fewer than 50 accounts,” he said.

Megxit – a word used to described the couple’s departure from royal duties – is a “misogynistic term” that was created by an online troll before it entered mainstream use, Harry said.

Asked about “censorship” and the balance between free speech and possibly harmful content on social media, Harry said: “The free speech argument is somewhat a distraction from the main problem.

“As we’ve already established, this isn’t just a social media problem, it’s a media problem. I’ve grown up learning that news should be sacred ground.”

Harry said it did not take Succession’s fictional media mogul Logan Roy or media magnate Rupert Murdoch to “understand that clickbait is the descendant of targeted advertising”.

He warned in many cases “the truth is paywalled but the lies are free”.

Harry said that while a lie on social media was dangerous, “when that same lie is given credibility by journalists or publishers, it’s unethical and as far as I’m concerned an abuse of power”.

He asked who was holding the media to account.

“It’s kind of become a bit of a digital dictatorship," Harry said.

He suggested the solution could be to invest in and support “honest journalists” who “respect and uphold the values of journalism, not the pirates with the press cards who have hijacked the most powerful industry, the freest industry in the world”.

“Real journalists” have the power to “tackle racism, misogyny, lies, all of it” from “within their own system”, Harry said.

He said he would like to see journalists investigate their “unethical, immoral and dishonest” colleagues.

“We can fix this, we have to fix this, but we need everyone’s help,” Harry said.

The royal said it would be “impossible” to get users to quit social media platforms “given how addictive they are”.

“But it’s about being aware enough to be able to protect yourself from the harms and know when you are being used,” Harry said.

He was joined on the panel by Stanford Internet Observatory technical research manager Renee DiResta and Aspen Commission on Information Disorder co-chair and Colour of Change president Rashad Robinson, for a talk with Wired editor at large Steven Levy.

Updated: December 01, 2021, 7:05 AM