How does one bow to the Queen online?

The timing of the launch of Her Majesty’s Facebook page is interesting
Image of Robert Shrimsley

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The Queen to get her own Facebook page, screamed the newspapers excitedly. Actually, technically speaking they didn’t, they all said “One is on Facebook”, because that’s what passes for humour at most British news organisations.

What a triumph for Martha Lane Fox, Britain’s digital champion, I thought. She’s only just been tasked with getting more pensioners online and she lands the big one. Except, of course, it isn’t quite like that because Her Maj has no intention of sullying herself on Facebook. The more accurate account is that Buckingham Palace is going to set up a fan page, in much the same way as Coca-Cola or Gap. Some of the younger royals are apparently already on Facebook under pseudonyms known only to their friends. Prince Harry can be found under Sturmhauptführer Hans Mueller, but he’s given up posting pictures.

So there’ll be no becoming Facebook friends with Her Maj, which when you think about it, is something of a relief. After all, how does one address a royal online? Is there a digital symbol that signifies a bow? Perhaps you could use the < icon since it indicates that you are less than the monarch. Or should it be the > to show she is more than you? It’s a minefield. Besides which, does the Queen really want the rest of the world to know that she has peaked at Who Has The Biggest Brain?

So instead it will just be another corporate fan page run by some nameless official in the communications office. We know this because there’s already a British monarchy Twitter feed replete with such gems as “Queen visits Essex”.

So it was a fair bet that the Facebook page would be pretty similar; news from the Court Circular and photos of the Duke of York munching canapés in Milton Keynes. It’s perfect for those tragic sorts who like to stay on top of royal movements. “Ooh look she’s gone to Essex. That’s nice, I wonder if she got to Canvey Island.” It is even more perfect for overseas fans, for whom the Queen retains an immense fascination, in much the same way as Benny Hill is still revered in former outposts of the Empire.

But surely Her Maj is missing a trick. Just think of the opportunities to rationalise her work. For a start, she could ditch the telegrams to centenarians in favour a posting a nice message on their wall. Instead of issuing royal charters to retailers, she could just hit the “like” button. It might be too lèse-majesté to allow people to poke the monarch, but perhaps Facebook could offer a bespoke forelock-tug option.

We understand why the Queen is not going to join Facebook. Everyone would want to be friends with her. Her news feed would be enormous, full of pictures of people’s daughters’ first teeth. But around 26 million Brits are on Facebook. What better insight into the lives and interests of her subjects, sorry friends, than a news feed from the country at large? One imagines that a diligent monarch could become strangely addicted to the news from the land.

“I say Philip, I see Geoffrey Smith is back at Heathrow after his seven-day business trip and he’s absolutely cream crackered.”

“Ah, nice to know he’s landed safely; do let me know when he ‘hits the sofa’.”

It need not all be trivia: “Oh that’s a shame; John Jones has been turned down for another job. That’s five months he’s been unemployed. There do seem to be rather a lot like him. Perhaps I should send him a ‘chin up’ message. I wish they’d give him that Dave Ryan’s job – he seems to be throwing another sickie.”

But this is mere whimsy. The point of social media may be to engage with others; but the point of the British monarchy web page is to stay aloof. Nonetheless, the timing is interesting. The British press is also full of speculation that Prince William is about to announce his marriage to his long-term girlfriend. What a perfect event to drive Facebook traffic. There’ll be bunting, trestle tables, souvenir magazines and street parties, It may not be very web 2.0 but it’s the kind of engagement a monarch can work with.

robert.shrimsley@ft.com

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