If anyone knows about cyberbullying, it's Monica Lewinsky. In 1998, her role in the Bill Clinton "blue dress" scandal catapulted her into the public spotlight in a way that the world had never seen before. Public humiliation was, for the first time, felt and dealt with on a global scale.
Not surprisingly, Lewinsky has spent the 17 years since then diligently keeping herself out of the headlines, but recently she has started speaking out. She's been speaking about her experience as the world's first cyberbullying victim, about the role of the Internet in public humiliation, and about how she hopes to "take back her narrative" by telling her story in the hopes of changing the way we click around the Internet.
In her recent TED talk, Lewinsky bravely takes us back to 1998, when — overnight — she went from being a private, obscure White House intern to the center of a national scandal and the target for "virtual stone throwers" around the world. Lewinsky admits she made a mistake and apologizes for it profusely, but she also recognizes that the price she paid for that mistake was far greater than the world could have ever imagined.
Lewinsky says she decided to speak out after hearing about the story of Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers student who was secretly taped by his roommate while being intimate with another man. Clementi's roommate shared the video online. Under the weight of the humiliation, Clementi ended his own life a few days later.
Bullying is not a new issue, but, as Lewinsky notes, what is new is this notion of "stealing of people's private words, actions, conversations, and photos and then making them public. Public without consent. Public without context. And public without compassion."
We have become a nation of scandal seekers, and the latest and greatest scandal is only a click away. In the past, the national spotlight has been focused on celebrities. But now, anyone, anywhere can become the center of unwanted international attention.
Says Lewinsky: "Everyday online, people — especially young people who are not developmentally equipped to handle this — are so abused and humiliated that they can't imagine living to the next day. And some, tragically don't."
So, what can we do to stop this trend from spiraling further out of control? "Public shaming as a bloodsport has to stop," notes Lewinsky. And that means showing more compassion and empathy when choosing what kind of news we click and share every day. As Lewinsky notes, it's time we all start imagining what it's like to "walk a mile in someone else's headline."
Check out the video of her talk below: