Kate Middleton Conspiracy Theorists Got a Huge Boost—From Kensington Palace

Amid ongoing rumors about the princess's prolonged absence from public life, Kensington Palace shared a photo of Kate and her children that was so visibly manipulated that news agencies aren’t running it.

Kate Middleton Conspiracy Theorists Got a Huge Boost—From Kensington Palace

After weeks of rumor-mongering about Kate Middleton’s whereabouts following her January surgery, Kensington Palace marked the U.K.’s Mother’s Day by sharing a photo of the princess and her three children. And more so than any British mum, conspiracy theorists who have spent the better part of this calendar year penning salacious fan-fics about Middleton truly won on Sunday. 

The photo of Middleton and her kids is so obviously manipulated that social media users practically tripped over themselves to call it out. By Sunday afternoon, news agencies including the Associated Press, Agence France-Presse, Reuters, Getty Images, the New York Times, and the Washington Post all removed and ceased to distribute the photo, because it didn’t meet their editorial standards regarding photo manipulation.

On Monday morning, following nearly 24 hours of frenzied speculation, Middleton apologized on social media for sharing the edited photo: “Like many amateur photographers, I do occasionally experiment with editing,” she (allegedly) wrote on Twitter. “I wanted to express my apologies for any confusion the family photograph we shared yesterday caused. I hope everyone celebrating had a very happy Mother’s Day.” 

A “source” told People that Middleton made only “minor adjustments” to the “amateur, family photograph taken by the Prince of Wales.” With the photo, the couple meant “to offer an informal picture of the family together for Mother’s Day,” and “the family spent Mother’s Day together and had a wonderful day.”

But the damage was pretty much done the moment Kensington Palace posted the shot on Twitter. After all, no one is really all that concerned with Middleton—or any famous person—dabbling with FaceTune; the issue here is that there are large swaths of the internet that believe Middleton’s disappearance from the public means she’s incapacitated, even dead. Sharing a photo that’s doctored to the point that major news orgs won’t distribute it doesn’t exactly quiet speculation.

The AP’s photo guidelines permit “minor adjustments to photos” including cropping, but don’t allow even the removal of red-eye. In an article on its decision to remove the photo, the AP wrote: “At closer inspection, it appeared the source had manipulated the image in a way that did not meet AP’s photo standards. The photo shows an inconsistency in the alignment of Princess Charlotte’s left hand.”

Off the bat, I can name nearly a dozen weirder, unexplained glitches in the photo, which have raised questions about whether it was merely heavily Photoshopped or whether parts of it are AI-generated. In addition to all the very weird hands and fingers, what the hell is up with the zipper area of Kate’s jacket and how her hair falls over it? If you brighten the photo (see: here), it looks like two completely photos poorly rendered and smashed together. That is an issue with several parts of the photo:

I am not one to speculate about people’s private health matters, even when they’re literal royalty. But as Wired put it, this is on the royal family for posting such a mind-bogglingly bad photo: The current online reaction, at a time of intensifying discourse about Middleton’s whereabouts, is “an entirely predictable result of an inexplicable error in judgment” from Kensington Palace.

After Middleton’s surgery, the prince and princess’s comms team said us that Middleton wouldn’t return to her public duties until after Easter, which is falls on March 31 this year. And through all of this is, the notoriously voyeuristic and nasty U.K. tabloid machine hasn’t really batted an eye over Middleton’s disappearance and anything that may or may not be unfolding in the background (which remains in stark contrast with their treatment of Meghan Markle, a comparison that’s been repeatedly raised over the past few weeks).

Middleton hasn’t been seen or photographed in public since Christmas except for a grainy paparazzi snap of her in a car last week. That photo also did little to dispel any of the rumors that something’s happened to Middleton, in no small part thanks to the fact that British outlets declined to publish the photo “out of respect for her privacy,” as one royals reporter put it.

Beyond Middleton’s Monday apology, Kensington Palace has not publicly commented on news agencies’ refusal to distribute the photo, nor any of the other questions it has raised. But at this point I have to ask: What is there to lose? Rumors that Middleton has died; is in rehab; or is recovering from the world’s worst plastic surgery job are flooding the internet. Given the choice between leaving something up to the public’s overactive imagination or just…saying what’s happening, I, personally, think the choice is clear!

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