We live in an era of instant fame, and sometimes instant torment, thanks to the hyper-connectivity of the internet. Nearly 20 years ago, Monica Lewinsky suffered what she calls a “global humiliation” after her affair with then-U.S. President Bill Clinton. Now Lewinsky is speaking out on the perils of cyberbullying and how she rebuilt her life.
Lewinsky took the stage Thursday in Vancouver at the TED Conference in a talk that is also making viral waves around the world.
“At 22, I fell in love with my boss. At 24, I learned what that cost. Not a day goes by when I am not reminded of my mistake, and I regret that mistake entirely,” said Lewinsky of her affair with Clinton.
Lewinsky, who was a White House intern at the time of the affair, said that what happened to her in the media after the scandal broke is what we know now as “cyberbullying and online harassment.”
What Lewinsky experienced was a powerful public shaming that left her suicidal. Lewinsky listed among the hateful terms used to describe her were ” ‘tramp,’ ‘tart,’ ‘slut,’ ‘whore,’ ‘bimbo’ and, of course, ‘that woman.'”
Nowadays, said Lewinsky, this kind of public humiliation has become an “industry” and “commodity.” From her TED talk:
“How is the money made? Clicks. The more shame, the more clicks; the more clicks, the more advertising dollars.… We are in a dangerous cycle: the more we click on this kind of gossip, the more numb we get to the human lives behind it. And the more numb we get, the more we click.”
Lewinsky is calling for a “cultural revolution,” as she pleaded: “public shaming as a blood sport needs to stop.”
Delivering her speech to what the Globe and Mail describes as a “rapt audience,” the 41-year-old did so in, as people online noted, while wearing blue. (Lewinsky, as most know, famously wore a blue dress during a key encounter with Clinton.)
Wow! Monica Lewinsky speaking on TED stage about cyber bullying and wearing a blue dress. That takes guts!
— Kellie Kuecha (@kelliekuecha) March 20, 2015
— Agitatrix (@agitatrix) March 20, 2015
Ultimately, Lewinsky’s powerful message about her own journey is that of survival, and she hopes sharing her story can help others.
“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.”