If anyone is an expert on media witch-hunts, it’s Monica Lewinsky. The former White House intern had her life taken over and exposed for all to see when her 1998 sexual affair with then-President Bill Clinton became a media feeding frenzy.
Though she has kept a low-profile for almost a decade, she’s regaining notoriety for her inspiring TED Talk on cyber-bullying, slut-shaming, and the devastating effects they can wreak on their victims — before you laugh, you should listen for yourself.
No matter how you feel about Lewinsky’s presidential affair, her actions as an infatuated 22-year-old resulted in decades of harassment — being called a whore and a home-wrecker, ridiculed for her physical appearance, and roundly mocked online and in late night talk shows ever since. The shaming financially and emotionally devastated her, driving her to seek a graduate degree in London while the public moved on.
Now an advocate against online bullying, Lewinsky’s TED Talk drew attention to the harm the LGBT community has endured as a result of online shaming, highlighting the case of Tyler Clementi, the 18-year-old Rutgers student who took his own life in 2010 after his classmates circulated online webcam footage of Clementi kissing another male student.
Such tragedies are preventable, Lewinsky suggests, if we remember to treat others with compassion when using the web. Next time we see someone being targeted, she challenges us to take the moment to become an “upstander” and leave an encouraging comment or flag the conversation to be taken down.
Finally, Lewinsky reaches out to those currently suffering such attacks, offering the following wisdom: “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.”
For those interested in joining the fight against cyber-bulling or learning more, please visit The Tyler Clementi Foundation.
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