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Monica Lewinsky believes she was a victim of cyberbullying before there was even a word for it.
Lewinsky took the TED stage Thursday to reveal the painful details of how the media storm surrounding her 1998 affair with President Bill Clinton affected her on a personal level.
“In 1998, I lost my reputation and my dignity. … I lost my sense of self,” said Lewinsky. “When this happened to me 17 years ago, there was no name for it. Now, we call it cyberbullying.”
Her TED Talk marked the second time she has spoken publicly since she moved to London in 2005 to study social psychology at the London School of Economics. Since then, she has bounced around between London, New York, Los Angeles and Portland, Ore.
She used her talk to urge people to become proactive when they see cyberbullying or someone being publicly humiliated.
“I’ve seen some very dark days in my life. It was empathy and compassion from friends, family, co-workers, even strangers that saved me. Empathy from one person can make a difference,” she said.
Below are her key thoughts on the aftermath of the Clinton affair.
1. It would have been significantly different in an earlier era.
“This scandal was brought to you by the digital revolution,” said Lewinsky. “It was the first time traditional news was usurped by the Internet, a click that reverberated around the whole world.” She said she “was patient zero of losing a personal reputation on a global scale almost instantaneously.”
2. She describes the fallout as “devastating.”
“At the age of 22, I fell in love with my boss,” said Lewinsky. “At the age of 24, I learned the devastating consequences.”
3. The focus on her as an individual was “unprecedented” in the history of sex scandals.
“Now, I admit I made mistakes — especially wearing that beret — but the attention and judgment that I received — not the story, but that I, personally, received — was unprecedented,” said Lewinsky. “I was branded as a tramp, tart, slut, whore, bimbo and, of course, ‘that woman.’ I was known by many, but actually known by few. I get it. It was easy to forget ‘that woman’ was dimensional and had a soul.”
4. What happened to her when Linda Tripp leaked her private phone calls is much more common today.
Lewinsky pointed to the nude photo leaks involving Jennifer Lawrence and the Sony hack that revealed emails from top executives as examples of people falling prey to circumstances similar to her own.
“This was not something that happened with regularity back then in 1998,” she said. “And by ‘this,’ I mean the stealing of people’s private words, actions, conversations or photos and then making them public. Public without consent, public without context and public without compassion.”
5. The suicide of teenager Tyler Clementi made her want to speak up.
“Tyler’s tragic, senseless death was a turning point for me,” Lewinsky said of the college student who killed himself after being cyberbullied. “It served to re-contextualize my experiences. I began to look at the world of humiliation and bullying around me and see something different. … 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.”
6. She’s stepping back into the spotlight to take back her own story.
“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,” she said.
7. Gossip websites are part of the problem … as are the people who click on their stories.
“How is the money made? Clicks. The more shame, the more clicks; the more clicks, the more advertising dollars,” said Lewinsky. “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.”
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