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What should the Prince and Princess of Wales do next?

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It’s been a week since the speculation over the whereabouts of the Princess of Wales went into overdrive, thanks to the now infamous Photoshopped picture of Catherine with her three children dropped online, before being promptly killed by five major news agencies.

It was the picture that was actually supposed to calm down the rumours of where she was and the state of her health, but it promptly did the opposite, thanks to the fact the image had been edited.

Not a big deal on any normal day, as it’s something a lot of us partake in, but this was against the backdrop of the Princess of Wales not being seen in public for weeks after her abdominal surgery in January.

Inconsistencies in the photo led to its retraction by major news agencies, including Reuters and the Associated Press, due to concerns about digital manipulation.

The altered photo sparked widespread speculation about the Princess of Wales' health and whereabouts with the online rumour mill going crazy with theories ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous about what was really going on with the Princess of Wales.

This led to a media backlash and the British press dubbing it the "Picture of Chaos."

A montage of some of the front pages of Britain's newspapers, in London, Tuesday, March 12, 2024 (Kirsty Wigglesworth / AP Photo)

Instagram added a warning to the photo, highlighting its alteration, which further fuelled discussions about the transparency and trustworthiness of information from Kensington Palace.

The Princess of Wales issued a personal apology for the confusion caused by the edited photo, emphasizing that the alteration was meant to quell speculation about her health.

Despite the controversy, the Royal Family stated they would not release the original, unedited photo, maintaining that the Princess of Wales is doing well. This has only added to the rumours swirling online and in the public discourse, the thinking being if there’s nothing to hide, then why not let us see the original picture?

In the wake of the Photoshop scandal, what should the Prince and Princess of Wales do next? Well, strategic steps forward for the Princess of Wales needs to involve a multi-faceted approach to digital and social media, emphasizing transparency and authenticity, and, more importantly, making sure these kinds of mistakes don’t happen again.

Now, I am most certainly not saying anyone needs to be sacked, but it’s clear that Kensington Palace needs a head of digital and social media with proven experience in digital strategizing for high-profile accounts, an outstanding awareness of the social media landscape, and excellent content creation skills.

But they also need to be aware of the zeitgeist of the time they are working in, be aware of what’s being said about their client and be able to advise the Prince and Princess of Wales, in an honest way, about what will work at that particular time. Reading the room is paramount. If that had been done with the Mother’s Day picture, perhaps it wouldn’t have gone out as it did.

Following the Photoshop controversy, the Princess of Wales has acknowledged the importance of authenticity in communications, stating her occasional experiments with editing and her commitment to genuine representations. Future communications should prioritize transparency and authenticity, with direct addresses to the public through statements or interviews to reassure about her dedication to genuine engagements.

The title of Princess of Wales, with its complex historical connotations, adds a layer of scrutiny to how Kate Middleton is perceived by the public. This, combined with personal challenges such as King Charles’ cancer diagnosis, places additional pressure on the Royal Family to navigate public relations sensitively. The breach of protocol by releasing an edited photo without clear disclosure violates established norms and raises questions about transparency and trustworthiness.

With The Sun newspaper in the U.K. reporting on Sunday that the Princess of Wales has been spotted out and about with her husband Prince William. But with no new image to accompany the story, it’s clear that only a new (not digitally altered) image, video, or public appearance by the Princess of Wales is the only way to put this whole episode to bed.

But, let’s remember, at the heart of this is a woman who is recovering from major surgery and she should be offered the privacy to recuperate in her own time. Any of us would want to be afforded the same courtesy. Unfortunately, the public are so used to being fed with images and information about the Princess of Wales on such a regular basis that when there is a vacuum of information about her, it’s filled with online chatter and conspiracy theories.

Where were the calls for kindness for Meghan?

The current scrutiny that the Princess of Wales is facing is not too different from the same pressures Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, faced when she was a working royal. Many have said that the press and the public should back off and give the Princess of Wales the time needed to recover in peace. I agree, but I wish Meghan had been afforded the same grace when the public discourse, press stories and online hate about her reached fever pitch.

Where were the articles calling for kindness for the Duchess of Sussex then? The question is, why should it be one rule for one member of the Royal Family but not for another? Shouldn’t both of these women, both the Princess of Wales and the Duchess of Sussex, have been given equal privacy and respect that they deserve?

Looking ahead, a continued emphasis on authenticity and transparency would position the Princess of Wales as a relatable, trustworthy figure amidst the complexities of the digital age. The handling of events and the proactive steps taken thereafter need to reflect a real understanding of the significance of public perception and the need for a nuanced approach to digital strategy.

These efforts are not only crucial for overcoming immediate challenges but also lay the foundation for fostering enduring trust and credibility in an ever-evolving digital landscape.

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