On May 18th, @DuchessKateM published her first tweet. “Thanks for this Sweet Welcome. It’s my Official Twitter and I’m really happy to be here with you,” she wrote. Just five days later, @DukeWilliam1 was appeared on the social media site. Before long, @middletonpippa was talking fashion (“Green Dress for you? xx”) and @PrinceHarryofW was missing his mum. It’s a rare occurrence to see royal reality as such, and like most reality entertainment, it’s fake.
But like the so-called Duchess’ more than 13,000 other followers, I don’t care. For weeks I’d been enthusiastically following the (unofficial) “Real Twitter Account of The Duchess Catherine Elizabeth Middleton” and hanging off every tweet: “I really love the royal family. It’s a really good family” or “Thanks for Visit UK @BarackObama!” I even eavesdropped on a royal birthday wish to her handsome hubby (“Happy Birthday to my Husband !! You are the best of my life !! Our first birthday together after the wedding !! I Love you, Catherine xx”). Avid voyeurs rejoiced.
It’s a far cry and welcome relief from how we usually see royalty. “With the monarchy, it’s official this and official that,” says Tom Vassos, social media expert at the University of Toronto. “But people want more than that, people want the personal touch, and someone will provide it.”
Enter the many online incarnations of Catherine Middleton: besides my personal favourite @DuchessKateM, who now prefers to go by @KateDuchessofC, there’s @PrincessKateFTW (as in ‘for the win’) and @DuchessCatherin (a Mexican knock-off). @HRHPrincessKate is a snootier version who proclaims, “I’m the Tweeple’s Princess! I don’t swear, my bum doesn’t look big in anything and I never have a strop—I’m virtually too good to be true!” Combined, they have 40,000 followers.
This isn’t anything new: Fake twitter accounts—celebrity imposters known as Phweeters—have been around since the beginning of Twitter. The best are clever parody: Chuck Norris’ macho claims have become pop culture legend and Nick Nolte’s legal problems make excellent comic fodder. Others are borderline sacrilegious: the Dalai Lama tweeted briefly, until “His Holiness” was revealed as a fake. Even the boozy @Queen_UK phweets, in third person no less: “Virtually preserved in gin. God Save One.”
Do the royals worry about their imposters? Should they? “Yes and no,” says Vassos. “Like anything, they have to manage their brand in the marketplace, whether it’s newspapers, magazines or online.” In an email to The Daily Beast, a Buckingham Palace spokesman wrote “Thanks for checking this, but these are not the genuine duke and duchess,” but that’s it so far for retaliation. “They have to tread carefully—going after a 17-year-old girl who’s tweeting for fun could backfire big time,” says Vassos.
A better plan, says Vassos, is to get with the times. “I would love to see the Royal family embrace social media and capitalize on it.” Though it might feel an odd fit, the Royal family has done just that: @BritishMonarchy began tweeting in 2009, and their Facebook page went live last year. But the official Royal feed feels just that: official. “Changing the guard at Windsor Castle” hardly compares to Fake Kate’s fawning personal touch: “Love and Hugs for all my fans!”
So with one part pathetic fandom and one part investigative journalism, I dared to tweet the queen-to-be. As she embarked across the pond on her first official visit, I got gutsy: “@DuchessKateM Why no stop in Toronto? We feel so left out!” (That part was very true; I was feeling a bit like a runner-up in a beauty pageant.) But the real disappointment came just minutes later: “@RosemaryCounter We have an Itinerary.” Bleak, painfully obvious, and incorrectly capitalized, Kate’s tweet was suddenly too real to be real, and clearly too good to be true.
“So the real question is, what do you get out of it?” asks Vassos. Besides basic info and maybe some mediocre comedy, I must confess it’s feeling this close to Kate that wins followers, including myself, especially as she live-tweets the Canadian Tour. My heart’s not quite so into it anymore, but I’m not so disillusioned as to un-follow the imposter. Until the real Duchess joins Twitter, fake royal banter will have to do.