The photo of Meghan Markle that drove Kensington Palace to change their social media rules.

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– With AAP

The royal family has this week changed its social media policy following a slew of abuse that’s been targeted at Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle.

While there have been the odd negative comments on the royals official Twitter and Instagram accounts over the years, the abuse seems to have ramped up since Prince Harry’s wife announced her pregnancy with their first child, according to various reports.

It’s thought that one photo, in particular, played a role in prompting the royal offices to reexamine their social media policy – a photo of Meghan Markle cradling her baby bump at the British Fashion Awards in December. The completely innocuous-looking photo was met with a torrent of abuse on Hello magazine’s social media accounts.

We personally have nothing but love for Meghan and her evolving style:

Unveiling their “Social Media Community Guidelines”, Buckingham Palace, Clarence House and Kensington Palace – the offices for the Queen, her son and heir Prince Charles, and William and Harry – outlined what behaviour they expected from users of their channels.

“We ask that anyone engaging with our social media channels shows courtesy, kindness and respect for all other members of our social media communities,” the guidelines released on Monday said.

They stated that comments must not be defamatory, obscene, threatening, or abusive; be discriminatory in any way; be “off-topic, irrelevant or unintelligible” or contain advertising.

The protocol said royal officials would determine whether the guidelines had been breached and anyone who did so would be blocked or have their comments hidden or deleted.

“We also reserve the right to send any comments we deem appropriate to law enforcement authorities for investigation as we feel necessary or is required by law,” it said.

Social media users ridiculously accused Meghan of touching her stomach "too much" after photos of Meghan at the British Fashion Awards were published online. Image: Getty

About 3.87 million accounts follow the royal family's Twitter feed and another 1.69 million follow that of Kensington Palace as the House of Windsor seeks to reach out directly to royal fans and showcase its work, with the overwhelming number of messages supportive.

However, while the palaces gave no explanation as to why they had issued the guidance now, there has been rising abuse of the Duchess of Cambridge and the Duchess of Sussex since the former US actress married Harry last May.

A source from Kensington Palace told Hello! magazine, which launched a campaign in January to end the online abuse, that officials were spending hours each week addressing sexist and racist comments aimed at the duchesses.

These included a number of violent threats. There have also been vicious online rows between rival supporters of the two royals, and even those who report on their activities.

"It is not just the royal princesses who are being trolled, every royal journalist, every royal correspondent is being trolled as well," royal biographer Claudia Joseph told Reuters.

"People see their opinions as valid and I don't think they totally understand journalists do research, that the royals have a job to do."

Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York and ex-wife of the Queen's second son Prince Andrew, called on social media firms to do more following the Hello! campaign, saying it was not a matter of free speech.

"Much of social media has become a sewer," she said on Twitter last month.

"Tech firms need to do much more to take a stand against online abuse, rather than shrugging their shoulders."

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