On the heels of Ashley Judd pursuing legal action against online harassers, Monica Lewinsky, the woman at the center of Bill Clinton’s 1998 sex scandal, gave a TED Talk about her experience as an early victim of widespread online bullying. Referring to herself as “Patient Zero” in the culture of online shame and trolling that has reached a peak in the past couple of years, Lewinsky’s talk touched on subjects that are painfully current while providing a rather wise point of view.
The internet as it applies to mainstream, everyday users was in its infancy in the late ’90s. Had that scandal occurred even five years earlier, cyberbullying wouldn’t have even been an option. But by 1998, any computer user who got one of those storied AOL CDs in the mail and a shiny new modem had the opportunity to get online and make a comment about this 22-year-old intern behind the veil of anonymity. Suddenly, a huge audience of people had nearly effortless power — and they used it to create a culture of shame. It wasn’t long before that culture became a huge moneymaker and, therefore, a part of the mainstream media.
Lewinsky took the stage and the spotlight to announce that this can and should change:
For nearly two decades now, we have slowly been sowing the seeds of shame and public humiliation in our cultural soil. Gossip Web sites, paparazzi, reality programming, politics, news outlets and sometimes hackers traffic in shame.
Public humiliation as a blood sport has to stop. We need to return to a long-held value of compassion and empathy.
After being called “a tramp, tart, slut, whore, bimbo, and, of course, ‘that woman,'” as she recounts, can anyone blame Lewinsky for wanting to fight all that cyber-fire with sunshine? It’s nasty out there, especially for women, who make up 72.3 percent of all reported incidents of online harassment and have to put up with exceptionally graphic and sexually violent comments.
But even while this fight continues, Lewinsky addressed the most important thing to remember: there’s light at the end of the tunnel if you keep running towards it.
“Anyone who is suffering from shame and public humiliation needs to know one thing: you can survive it. …
“I know it’s hard, it may not be painless, quick or easy, but you can insist on a different ending to your story.”
And if anyone would know, it would be Monica Lewinsky.