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Kate Middleton, Britney Spears and the online trolls who doubt their existence| GuyWhoKnowsThings

Kate Middleton has long been a magnet for unproven rumors: She pressured an art gallery to remove a royal portrait! She separated from her husband! She Changed Her Hairstyle to Distract Attention From Pregnancy Rumors! She didn't give birth to her daughter!

This year, speculation skyrocketed. Mrs Middleton, now Catherine, Princess of Wales, has been low-key since Christmas. Kensington Palace said she was recovering from “a planned abdominal surgery”And he is unlikely to resume royal duties until after Easter. Conspiracy theorists had other, more sinister ideas. The only explanation for the future queen's long absence, they said, was that she was missing, dying or dead, and that someone was trying to cover it up.

“KATE MIDDLETON IS PROBABLY DEAD,” reads one post on X, with the text flanked by skulls and screaming emojis.

In her fabricated death, the princess joins a host of other celebrities and public figures, from President Biden to Elon Musk, who dozens of online sleuths have declared in recent months to be clones, body doubles, intelligence-generated avatars. artificial or that are not living beings. They are people who breathe.

For many of the people who promote falsehoods, it's harmless fun: casual chat that lasts only a few clicks, a bonanza for meme generators. Others, however, spend”countless hours”on the search, following other skeptics down rabbit holes and demanding that celebrities provide proof of life.

Whatever the motivation, what persists is the need to question reality, disinformation experts say. Lately, despite ample and incontrovertible evidence to the contrary, the same feeling of suspicion has tainted conversations about electionscareer, health care and climate.

Much of the Internet now disagrees on basic facts, a phenomenon exacerbated by intensifying political polarization, distrust of institutions like the news and academia, as well as the rise of artificial intelligence and another technologies that can deform people's lives perception of truth.

In that environment, celebrity conspiracy theories became a way to take control of “a really precarious, scary, disturbing time,” said Whitney Phillips, assistant professor of media and digital platform ethics at the University of Oregon.

“The darkness that characterizes our politics is going to insert itself into even the most cheerful articulations of speculation,” he said. “It just speaks to a sense of unease in the world.”

Pop culture history is littered with post-mortem claims that famous dead people (like Elvis and Tupac) are still alive. Now comes the opposite.

In recent weeks, frantic online chat He claimed Catherine was dead or even in an induced coma, a rumor dismissed by the palace as “ridiculous”. Internet sleuths stated that photos of Catherine in cars with his mother and her husband were actually another woman who lacked the princess's facial moles.

Last week, the palace generated more speculation with a mother's day image of royalty with their three children. Inconsistencies in the portrait's clothing and background led to rumors that the image had been taken from old photographs in an attempt to conceal its true whereabouts. When Catherine apologized for editing the imagethe hashtag #WhereIsKateMiddleton was spreading on social media.

Another video The image of Catherine and her husband in a store in recent days was reviewed by conspiracy theorists who said she looked too blurry, too healthy, too thin, too flat and too unprotected by bodyguards to really be the princess. This week, after a video began circulating showing the Union flag at half-mast at Buckingham Palace, social media users interpreted the images as a sign that the princess or King Charles III, who has cancer, had died. The video turned out to be of a building in Istanbul in 2022after the death of Queen Elizabeth II.

Recycled images, easy-to-create computer-generated images, a general reluctance of most audiences to fact check easily refuted claims and even foreign disinformation efforts can help fuel doubts about the existence or independence of celebrities. There are rumors that Mr. Biden is played by several masked actors. including Jim Carrey. Mr. Musk is one of up to 30 clonesaccording to rapper Kanye West (himself often It is said to be a clone). Last year, Russian President Vladimir V. Putin was confronted during a news conference broadcast online by an AI-generated version of yourself asking about his rumored body doubles.

Glimpses into the lives of celebrities were once carefully curated and rationed across a limited set of media outlets, said Moya Luckett, a media historian at New York University. Few public figures faced the kind of uproar that Paul McCartney caused in 1969, when a rumor circulated that the Beatle had died years earlier and had been replaced by a double. The supposed evidence – winking lyrics and secret messages on reverse tracks in Beatles songs – so captivated the audience that McCartney remained seated. multiple interviews and photo sessions. to prove his presence in the mortal coil.

Today, celebrity content is widely and consistently available. Public participation is a crucial (and often requested) part of the advertising apparatus; privacy is not. Reality is airbrushed and filtered, allowing some public figures to appear ageless and raising unreasonable suspicions about those who are not.

When fans believe a famous person is in trouble, solving the case is treated as a community-bonding activity born of “a sense of entitlement disguised as concern,” Dr. Luckett said. She calls the practice “worry trolling.”

“It's about wanting to control how this person responds to me, about wanting to be part of their narrative: I've exhausted all the information that was available and now I need more,” he said, noting that a similar impulse is animated. the current obsession with true crime stories. “I don't think it's necessarily that you want to rescue or help.”

Britney Spears, just out a restrictive guardianshipLast year, she shared a series of unfiltered and often eccentric posts that some fans read as evidence that she had been replaced by a replacement.

The so-called Britney Truthers analyzed what they considered discrepancies in Ms. Spears' tattoos, gaps in her teeth and the color of her eyes. On one forum, a thread appeared titled “She has been cloned!” got almost 400 comments. A popular hashtag misrepresented one of Ms. Spears's. best known lyrics in #itsbritneyglitch, which appeared alongside claims that a lookalike was using an AI filter to imitate the singer online.

Spears, who was filmed in Las Vegas this year, has repeatedly rejected falsehoods about her death or brushes with death. “It makes me sick to my stomach that it's even legal for people to make up stories that I almost died,” she said. wrote on Instagram in February of last year. A few months later, she posted (and then deleted) “I'm not dead people!!!” She was cited by People in October saying: “No more conspiracies, no more lies.”

Conspiracy theory peddlers aren't necessarily believers: Some of the leading voices behind lies about voter fraud have admitted to court that his claims were false. Ed Katrak Spencer, a professor of digital cultures at Queen Mary University of London, said trying to publicly unmask a fake celebrity might seem like fun.

This month, an old conspiracy theory involving singer Avril Lavigne resurfaced in a ironic podcast by comedian Joanne McNally, who titled her first episode “What the Hell.” The claim (that Lavigne died and was impersonated by a doppelgänger) originated from a Brazilian blog called “Avril is dead“, or “Avril is dead”, which was noticed “How susceptible the world is to believing in things, no matter how strange they may seem.” In 2017, more than 700 people signed an online petition pressuring Lavigne and her doppelganger to provide “proof of life.”

“Fans are vocal performers themselves; the web and especially TikTok are platforms for performance,” Dr. Spencer said. “It's more about content creation and circulation, and all of this exists as a kind of scene. “It’s about the attention economy more than anything else.”

Dr. Spencer, who worked in academic articles about rumors involving Beyoncé, he said it was possible to defuse celebrity conspiracy theories. In 2020, a politician in florida accused the singer of faking her black heritage “to expose her” and said she was actually an Italian named Ann Marie Lastrassi associated with a deep state plot involving the Black Lives Matter movement.

His supporters, the BeyHive, adopted “Lastrassi” as a term of endearment and incorporated it into fan-fiction and online tributes. Beyoncé herself has addressed claims that she and her husband, Jay-Z, are in a secret societysinging in “Formation” that “all the haters are corny with that Illuminati mess.”

“It all comes back to the question of authenticity and the crisis of confidence in people's perception of authenticity,” Dr. Spencer said. “People are constantly questioning what they're seeing.”

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