The Queen’s Online Death

‘Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone’ begins W.H. Auden’s Funeral Blues, in which he asks that the noise of the world not intrude on his loved one’s death. This month, the telephone has been butchered; following Queen Elizabeth’s death, media silence has been enforced, from a halt on royal retweets, to censorship of anti-monarchy sentiments by social media platforms and a sudden advertising blackout.

Operation London Bridge, the codenamed plans for the security protocol following the Queen’s death, included monitoring and limiting the social media output of the royal family, the government, and the public. After a perfunctory announcement of her death by the Royal Twitter™, all non-essential royal news was paused. More difficult to monitor was the deluge of memes about her death, but social media platforms such as Twitter have removed tweets that they have deemed “emerging narratives that are violative of our policies.” It has not been clarified which policies these violate – unless Twitter has an ‘in poor taste’ policy I’m unaware of? Twitter and Snap froze advertising on their platforms within the UK following her death for several days and 24 hours respectively. These media giants take a huge financial fall for halting ads, one that I can only assume is remedied by the panacean optics of aligning one’s brand with the monarchy. 

That same media scrutiny has not been showed to any news other than the royal funeral; in a case of media negligence, an anti-police brutality protest in London was misreported by Sky news as a mourning congregation for the Queen. Chris Kaba was unarmed when he was murdered by a Met police officer. His death and the protest it sparked have been exploited by the UK media to further the pro-monarchy publicity. Whether this misinformation was intentional or not, it demonstrates the reduced capability of news outlets to maintain their journalistic duty of fact verification in the face of the speed of digital life. 

The ability to control digital media – to promote that which is beneficial to the royals, to suppress that which isn’t, and to steamroll all other news for weeks after – is something that even money alone cannot buy. The world’s personally wealthy have been the laughing stock of the internet since y2k – take Jeff Bezos’s leaked texts to his mistress, or Elon Musk’s bizarre child name. The royal’s untouchable media presence is granted not only through their net worth (King Charles just inherited billions of untaxed assets), but through their emotional power. In Communicative Capitalism, Jodi Dean writes of the subversion of democratic impulses by the hierarchy on the internet of emotions over logic.

But instead of leading to more equitable distributions of wealth and influence, instead of enabling the emergence of a richer variety in modes of living and practices of freedom, the deluge of screens and spectacles undermines political opportunity and efficacy for most of the world’s peoples.

Jodi Dean, Communicative Capitalism

As far as I can tell, no social media censorship has affected the huge number of memes that proliferated the internet following the Queen’s death. Humour can toe the line of activism and critique, and memes’ often visual nature complicates interpretation, and therefore censorship based on that interpretation. Considering that several anti-monarchy protestors in the UK have been arrested for ‘disturbing the peace’, memes should not be undervalued as a tool of critical expression, but I wonder if their post-ironic form leads to action or apathy.