Monica Lewinsky Demands an End to Cyberbullying: ‘I Almost Lost My Life’

AP Photo
AP Photo

Cyber bullying opponent Ashley Judd may have found an ally this week in former President Clinton mistress Monica Lewinsky.

Lewinsky attended a TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) conference in Vancouver Thursday, where she received a standing ovation after calling for a more compassionate Internet.

Lewinsky, whose affair with President Bill Clinton made international headlines in 1998, now describes herself as one of the first victims of cyberbullying. In only her second speech since retreating from the public eye in 2005, the former White House intern recounted details of her controversial past.

“At the age of 22, I fell in love with my boss. At the age of 24, I learned the devastating consequences,” she said, alluding to the fact that the internet further contributed to her personal humiliation.

“In 1988, after having been swept up in an improbable romance, I was then swept up into the eye of a political, legal and media maelstrom like we had never seen before,” she continued, adding that the scandal was a result of the “digital revolution.”

Lewinsky told the TED audience her story was unique, in that it was one of the first times traditional news had been bypassed by the Internet for a major story.

“I went from being a private figure to being a publicly humiliated one, worldwide. There were mobs of virtual stone-throwers,” she explained. Furthermore, Ms. Lewinsky said she lost her reputation, dignity, and almost her life as a result of the scandal. “I was branded a tart, a slut, a whore, a bimbo.”

After the news broke in January 1998, images of Lewinsky wearing a black beret were circulated online. She quickly became the center of public ridicule.

“17 years ago there was no name for it, but now we call it cyberbullying or online harassment,” she said.

According to Lewinsky, the turning point for her to speak out against online abuse is the story of 18-year-old Tyler Clementi, who committed suicide after a video of him in bed with another man went viral, making him a target for harassment.

“It served to re-contextualize my experiences. I began to look at the world of humiliation and bullying around me and see something different,” she continued. “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 don’t.”

“The more shame, the more clicks, and the more clicks, the more advertising dollars. We are making money off the back of suffering,” she affirmed.

Lewinsky then urged the audience to imagine “walking a mile in someone else’s headline” and to show more warmth and empathy towards others in the online community.

After more than a decade of silence, Ms. Lewinsky wants to set the record straight: “It was time to stop tip-toeing around my past, it was time to take back my narrative and let others know that you can survive it.”

Lewinsky joins actress Ashley Judd in calling for an end to cyber bullying. Judd became the subject of “gender-based” twitter “violence” last weekend, after she posted her opinion about the SEC college basketball championship game.

The actress was threatened with both rape and sodomy, and has promised to press charges against the bullies.


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