While most current undergraduates were pre-schoolers when Bill Clinton’s affair with a White House intern dominated the headlines, they know Monica Lewinsky. As the president was being impeached, Lewinsky hid from the public, suffering shame, humiliation and abuse from people she never met.
Now, 17 years later, Monica Lewinsky has re-emerged. Ted, the renowned nonprofit “devoted to spreading ideas…in the form of short, powerful talks,” recently posted her presentation, “The Price of Shame.” In it, Lewinsky reminds us that her scandal was unique, noting, “It was the first time the traditional news was usurped by the Internet for a major news story, a click that reverberated around the world.” She laments the ease in which the new media can be used to ruin reputations.
Poised, well-spoken and convincing, Lewinsky was the perfect spokesperson on the dangers of online name-calling. “When this happened to me 17 years ago, there was no name for it. Now we call it cyberbullying and online harassment.
“Cruelty to others is nothing new, but online, technologically-enhanced shaming is amplified, uncontained, and permanently accessible,” she said. “Millions of people, often anonymously, can stab you with their words…and there are no perimeters around how many people can publicly observe you and put you in a public stockade…We have slowly been sowing the seeds of shame and public humiliation in our cultural soil, both on- and offline. Gossip websites, paparazzi, reality programming, politics, news outlets and sometimes hackers all traffic in shame.”
Lewinsky was point-perfect in her conclusion. “We talk a lot about our right to freedom of expression, but we need to talk more about our responsibility to freedom of expression. The Internet is the superhighway for the id, but online, showing empathy to others benefits us all and helps create a safer and better world. We need to communicate online with compassion, consume news with compassion, and click with compassion.”
Has the Internet, indeed, created a “culture of humiliation?” What should we be doing about it? And is Monica Lewinsky the right spokesperson for this issue? Your thoughts?
NOTE: Let me suggest you watch Ms. Lewinsky’s talk before sharing your comments here. You may find it instructive. — JM