“At the age of 22 I fell in love with my boss. By 24, I learned the devastating consequences of my mistake.”
That was Monica Lewinsky and of course her boss was the president of the United States – an affair she said she regrets every day of her life. She spoke at eMerge Americas on Tuesday about cyberbullying. She calls herself Patient Zero. There was so much online cruelty “it was easy to forget ‘that woman’ had a soul,” she said.
“I lost my dignity, my self-respect, I almost lost my life. ... my parents feared I would be humiliated to death, literally.”
In 1998 there was no social media, but entertainment sites and blogs were proliferating with active comments sections, she said in her 20 minute talk, part of the WIT (Women, Innovation and Technology) Summit within eMerge. “There was no word for it then; today we call it cyberbullying.”
No cameras, video or questions were allowed during her 20-minute presentation, which drew such a large crowd that it quickly spilled into an overflow space in another room.
She began speaking out about her experiences with cyberbullying, she said, after the tragic suicide of Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers University student who jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge in 2010 after his roommate secretly filmed and posted him kissing another man. “Some people can’t imagine living to the next day and that’s not right.”
She said a recent global survey showed that one in five young people have experienced cyberbullying; 18 percent of those had had suicidal thoughts. According to the study, 49 percent of female victims are bullied by other women. She didn’t name the survey, but in 2015 Vodafone’s study had similar findings. She said she worked with Vodafone to create the first support emoji to the market, and use of the anti-bullying emoji has since mushroomed.
Lewinsky encouraged the audience to fight back by resisting the temptation to click on such postings. One person’s shame has become another’s profit, she noted. A marketplace has emerged – “the more shame, the more clicks.” People seeing others cyberbullied can also respond with a compassionate comment (sometimes that can change the conversation) or report the bullying, she said.
Speaking to victims, she said, “You can survive ... Insist on a different ending to your story. We all deserve compassion – to live in a more compassionate world.”
The sold-out eMerge Americas continues Tuesday at Miami Beach Convention Center.