After 17 years of reclusiveness, Monica Lewinsky has reemerged with a new
mission. While the dust to the Clinton scandal settled, Lewinsky had fled to the
United Kingdom to escape public shame and ridicule. She popped up every so
often over the past two decades, whether with a handbag line or a reality show,
in hopes of redeeming her reputation and publically reinventing herself. Most of
her endeavors failing, Lewinsky dedicated her time to her education, graduating
in 2006 with a Masters in Psychology from the London School of Economics.
Monica put her knowledge to good use this past March, delivering a TEDTalk
entitled “The Price of Shame.” The 22-minute speech veers from any topic
typically associated with her name; for the most part, it disregards the politics and
gritty details of “Monicagate,” and focuses instead on the Internet, cyber-bullying,
and invasion of privacy.
Lewinsky cites the death of Rutgers student Tyler Clemente as the inspiration
behind her speech and anti-bullying advocacy; Clemente took his life in 2010
after his roommate videotaped a sexual encounter between him and another
man and uploaded it to the internet. Lewinsky describes the effect of Tyler’s
death on both her and her mother: “[my mom] was gutted with pain in a way that I
just couldn’t quite understand. . . I realized she was reliving 1998 . . . a time
when she sat by my bed every night . . . made me shower with the bathroom
door open . . . a time when [my family] feared that I would be humiliated to death,
Lewinsky dubs herself “patient zero” of the cyber-bullying epidemic. Like
Tyler, Lewinsky endured endless ridicule at the hands of technology. “Tyler’s . . .
death was a turning point for me. It served to re-contextualize my experiences. [I
began] to look at the world of humiliation and bullying around me and see
something different. In 1998, we had no way of knowing where . . . the Internet
would take us. Since then, it has connected people in unimaginable ways . . . but
the darkness, cyber-bullying, and slut-shaming that I experienced had
mushroomed,” says Lewinsky. “Every day 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, and there’s nothing virtual about that.” Lewinsky hopes to use her
experiences to put an end to online bullying and Internet-humiliation.
In our post 9-11 world of gossip rags, celebrity bloggers, and social media,
cyber-bullies need not look far for a victim. Unlike his playground predecessor,
the cyber-bully has access to more cunning methods of torture. Wall scrawl might
seem minute in comparison to having one’s nude pictures uploaded to Tumblr for
all to see. Stories of photo hacks have even trickled their way into mainstream
news and pop culture, particularly in the case of Jennifer Lawrence and the 100
other famous females whose personal pictures found their way onto the internet.
A newer form of humiliation called “doxxing” has gained momentum in recent
months. Doxxers research a person, either through social media or search
engines, accumulate personal information, and publish their findings online.
Information might include phone numbers to employers, schools, or family
members. Some doxxers will contact academic institutions and employers in an
attempt to have their victims punished, expelled, or fired.
With the onslaught of new ways to humiliate, Lewinsky’s speech comes at an
opportune time. The Internet’s growth affords the cyber-bully a vast array of
weaponry to use against his target. Lewinsky seeks to put emphasis on the
possible consequences of this toxic tech society. Miss Lewinsky makes no
excuse for her actions and admits to her mistakes. Through her anti-cyber-
bullying advocacy, however, she seeks a social, cultural, and technological
revolution in which mistakes no longer define lifetimes.