A British official rants against Prince George. Was that appropriate?

William and Kate's son has just celebrated his third birthday, but photos of the young prince have become the subject of internet debate – a reality that may be par for the course for a royal in the digital age.

Matt Porteous/Handout/AP
Prince George with the family dog Lupo, at the family's home in Sandringham in Norfolk, England. The photo was released by the royal family as part of the celebration of Prince George's third birthday on July 22, 2016.

The appetite in the British media for photographs of young Prince George, British royals William and Kate’s firstborn son, was satiated last week when Prince William’s office released four photographs of the child, in honor of his third birthday.

The photos caused a mini publicity storm last week when British animal welfare group, Royal Society For The Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals, reacted to one of the photos showing George feeding Lupo, the family dog, ice cream and released a statement against feeding dairy products to pets.

But media chit-chat surrounding photos of the young prince was not to remain so, well, vanilla. On Monday, British paper, The Sun, exposed Facebook comments written by Angela Gibbins, head of global estates for the British Council, where she accuses the boy of embodying “white privilege.”

Commenting on an earlier photo of George, Ms. Gibbins says his “cheeky grin” reveals his “innate knowledge that he’s Royal, rich, advantaged and will never know *any* difficulties or hardships in life.” She calls on viewers to compare him to 3-year-old Syrian refugee children, according to The Sun.

While the comments were made on Gibbins’s private account, the British Council released a statement the following day saying that it has started disciplinary procedures against Gibbins, whom they do not name. The statement says that the council “expects the highest standards of our staff and in accordance with our code of conduct” and that her comments have “absolutely no connection to the British Council.”

The British Council is a cultural organization that promotes British culture and English language throughout the world; it is partially funded by tax-payer dollars, The Telegraph reports. Formed by a royal charter, its patrons are Queen Elizabeth II and Charles, Prince of Wales, who incidentally are Prince George’s great-grandmother and grandfather.

It is unclear if Gibbins will lose her job or issue an apology over the incident, which has gained much attention, but online responses from the public challenged her stance, and appeared to be particularly riled by the fact that the comments were about a child, the Sun reports.

In an online defense of her comments, apparently made before the exchange was made public, Gibbins said that she stands behind her social opinions, explaining that her anger is not against the child, but a “system that creates privilege.”

“I don’t believe the royal family have any place in a modern democracy, least of all when they live on public money,” she wrote, according to The Daily Beast.

The conversation about the place for the royal family in the modern world has been ongoing, but tradition – and public adoration both in Britain and around the world – have maintained the institution.

"The royal family is still relevant because it provides a point of unity," Erik Goldstein, a professor of international relations and history at Boston University, told The Christian Science Monitor this spring. "They would have to do something deeply unpopular to risk their position because nobody has proposed a viable alternative for the country."

But the level between staying in the public eye and maintaining privacy has long been a challenge for royals, sometimes with dark consequences. Paparazzi was unofficially implicated in the crash that led to the death of William's mother, the former Princess Diana, and Kate has weathered her share of photographic scandal when topless beach photos appeared in a French publication.

The commentary around photos of Prince George is all the more poignant given the level of privacy that William and Kate have maintained around their young family, even threatening to take action against a photographer who crossed lines when George was a toddler. According to the Associated Press, the British media has an agreement not to target photo coverage on royal children, in exchange for scheduled photoshoots with the royal family. 

William and Kate have not commented on the recent incident involving the British Council employee. 

But in the age of social media the way that photos are both viewed and commented on continues to evolve, as George may learn from an early age.

Material from the Associated Press and Reuters was used in this report.

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