It was just what the press needed post-Christmas, a Royal ‘drama’ to fill their front pages: ‘Megxit’. When the Duke and Duchess of Sussex announced they would be stepping back as senior royals and becoming financially self-sufficient in January this year, the media was awash with the story and speculation was rife about what the future looked like for the pair.
While such events can make for good conversation at the water cooler, as registry for the .UK domain we are also interested in how such incidents impact the domain registrations in the national namespace. We have tracked the trend by searching domain registrations using relevant keywords, which almost choose themselves at moments like this: ‘megxit’, ‘sussexes’, ‘archibald’, ‘duke’, ‘duchess’ and typos or misspellings such as ‘r0yal’ or ‘megan’, among others.
In the great scheme of things, the impact was minimal but registrations were apparent. The week that followed the announcement saw 90 domains being registered with explicit reference to the Royal couple. Some registrants moved pretty fast too: we had 17 domains registered within the first 24 hours of the news announcement, building to a high of 28 registered in a single day on 14 January. The 90 we found included domains such as megxit.co.uk, sussex-royals.co.uk, harryandmeghanroyals.co.uk and – my particular favourite – whenharrymetmeghan.co.uk.
Quite what registrants intend to do with these domains is unclear. Some might want to create fan sites, while others might be hoping they would get paid for the domains in the (unlikely) event that the Duke and Duchess want to secure them for their own use (in fairness, the couple might opt instead for Canada’s .ca). Most likely, the domains will be kept dormant as registrants wait to see what happens next – but we will always be monitoring, as we do the whole namespace, to ensure these sites are not used for phishing attempts or criminal activity.
In these days of living online, domain name registrations are just one part of the ripple across the internet that this news has provoked. As soon as the term was coined, #megxit was trending on Twitter, with an unsurprising blend of support, abuse and great British humour. One tweet showed the back entrance to Madame Tussauds with Meghan and Harry waxworks sticking out of a bin. E-commerce sites were also quick to react online, ideal for people who want a t-shirt that reads: ‘I don’t want my grandmother to control my social media either’.
But frippery and fun aside, Nominet – as a responsible registry – always takes these events seriously as a means of maintaining stability in the namespace. We must ensure the news cycle doesn’t provoke malicious registrations that could be used for criminal activity. You might recall our CEO Russell Haworth’s recent article on the influence of the recent General Elections on domain name registrations.
In that instance, we were interested in patterns of registration behaviour from a user perspective, with an eye to ensuring that our systems were not cynically being abused or possibly even being used as a vehicle for electoral fraud. We saw many election-focused domains being registered and then being actively used for either humour or to pillory the opposition. However – and reassuringly – we found no evidence of criminal activity.
Equally in this case of ‘Megxit’, no harm has been done, but the activity reminds us how important the online space remains in cultural and social changes happening in the ‘real’ world. As soon as X Factor starts on TV, all the contestants’ names are registered as domain names; during the London Olympics every British medal winner’s name was registered within four seconds of their victory. We might be living in a digital world, but the human element will never lose its influence.