The death of Queen Elizabeth II was expected for years and announced by strong rumors on social networks. It suits a woman of her global stature and recognition that today’s online conversation has been dominated by talk of the Queen.
For a 96-year-old representing an institution that dates back centuries, the Queen was more tech-savvy than many imagine. Defying stereotypes about women her age, Elizabeth, through her handlers, was an enthusiastic technology enthusiast. She sent her first email when she visited the Royal Signals and Radar Establishment in Malvern, England, in 1976 as part of the early development of Arpanet, the precursor to today’s global Internet.
The queen’s username? HME2: Her Majesty Elizabeth II. “All she had to do was push a few buttons,” Peter Kirstein, the man who helped set up the Queen’s email account at the time, told WIRED in 2012.
She wasn’t just an early adopter of email. In 1997 she launched the first version of the Royal Family website, years before some major British newspapers decided to go online. Ten years later, she started the family’s YouTube channel with a rare video from the first Christmas TV broadcast in 1957. She also sent their first tweet in 2014, and she tapped on an iPad and embraced Zoom meetings as her health failed and Covid lockdowns reduced many of her public in-person engagements.
“I think the Queen has been extremely savvy on the internet,” said Sadie Quinlan, a pro-royal YouTuber who posts as Yankee Wally. (Quinlan was criticized for her anti-Meghan Markle comment videos.) “I think she knows what’s going on, and I know she knows it’s pretty wild, and life goes on on the internet more than in real life.”
But in recent years the Queen, whose motto across the royal family was “never complain, never explain”, has become more than an early adopter of the technology. She has become a meme, enthusiastically deployed by social media users looking to offer tongue-in-cheek comments about their peers. “The internet loves when a little old lady is quirky,” says Idil Galip, who studies memes at the University of Edinburgh and runs the Meme Research Network. That the queen had a love of corgis, at one time own nine, also helped endear her to the masses online. “I think her love of animals also played a big part in why she was mistrusted,” says Galip. “The internet loves corgis too, and so does the queen.”
The endless, listless life of building openings and public events has also given the Queen plenty of opportunities to become a meme. from her the excitement of seeing cows as part of its 90th anniversary celebrations in 2016 for cut a simple cake with a ceremonial sword in 2021, she showed an ability to perform for the masses. “I think a lot of people also like to peek behind the facade of royal distance and be like, ‘Oh, she’s just like us,'” Galip says.