Monica Lewinsky received a standing ovation at the Cannes Lions festival on Thursday after delivering a fiery anti-bullying speech in which she called herself the “patient zero” of online abuse.
According to the New York Post, Lewinsky was the Ogilvy & Inspire keynote speaker at the festival, which honors work in the advertising and creative communications fields.
Drawing from her recent TED Talk, Lewinsky, who was infamously wrapped up in President Bill Clinton’s sex scandal in 1998, told the audience that “public shaming as a blood sport must stop.”
“Like me, at 22, a few of you may also have taken wrong turns and fallen in love with the wrong person, maybe even your boss,” Lewinsky said. “Unlike me, though, your boss probably wasn’t the president of the United States of America.”
“Not a day goes by that I am not reminded of my mistake, and I regret that mistake deeply. In 1998 after having been swept up into an improbable romance, I was then swept up into a political, legal and media maelstrom, that we had never seen before.
This scandal was brought to you by the digital revolution … what that meant for me personally was that overnight I went from being a completely private figure, to a publicly humiliated one worldwide. I was patient zero of losing a personal reputation on a global scale almost instantaneously.”
Lewinsky described the increased danger of online bullying in the 21st century’s hyper-connected world, citing examples of the death of Rutgers student Tyler Clemente, who committed suicide after a roommate secretly filmed him being intimate with another man, the celebrity nude photo-hacking scandal and the recent Sony hack.
Lewinsky said that at one point the abuse became so bad that she contemplated suicide.
“In 1998 I lost my reputation and my dignity, I lost almost everything, and I almost lost my life,” she said. “There were moments for me when it seemed like suicide was the only way to end the ridicule … because of the headlines, my parents knew what I was going through, there was no mistaking it and no escaping it. Today, too many parents have learned of their child’s suffering after it is too late.”
Speaking to to a room full of advertising executives, Lewinsky asked them to imagine “what it is like when the brand is you personally, your likeness, your name, your history, your values, your soul.”
“That’s what happened to me in 1998,” Lewinsky explained. “You are looking at a woman who was publicly savaged for a decade … because of who I was branded.”
Lewinsky is back in the public eye after remaining out of the spotlight for much of the last two decades. In March, she delivered a well-received TED Talk about online bullying called “The Price of Shame.” In June of last year, Lewinsky penned an essay for Vanity Fair called “Shame and Survival” in which she discussed how the Clinton scandal derailed her life. She has since become a Vanity Fair contributing editor.
Lewinsky closed her speech Thursday by imploring the world’s creative executives to help end online bullying for good.
“You are the creative engines that will drive forward our culture,” she said. “Will you help me?”