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Monica Lewinsky (REUTERS/Danny Moloshok)

'Patient zero’

Monica Lewinsky uses scandalized past to address cyber-bullying

March 18, 2017

Thanks to the inception of a 24-hour-news cycle, Monica Lewinsky’s affair with then-President Bill Clinton threw her into the public glare virtually overnight. When details of the scandal broke, the world quickly saw what victimization in the Internet Age would look like, and it was far from pleasant.

Twenty years on and Lewinsky has chosen to draw on her scandalized past in order to help tackle the growing threat of cyber-bullying, which effects an estimated 50 percent of teens. Her activism began in  2015 when she took to the TED Talk stage and delivered a powerful speech — “The Price of Shame” — on what it was like to be “Patient Zero” of our online culture of humiliation.

Speaking to Refinery29 in an exclusive interview — her first since the 2016 election — Lewinsky discussed the impact cyber-bullying had on her own life and how she thinks it has evolved since its inception. Referring to a chart she made a few years ago, which laid out the changes that wove together “technological advances, changing ways on the internet and the cyberbullying tragedies and problems we’ve seen arise,” she breaks this evolution into several stages.

First, the online world created a global interconnectedness that was capitalized on by news outlets, which all had their own websites and which created a way for social conversation to occur around online events. “That was beginning of the online coliseum and global public stonings” she said.

Then the introduction of AOL instant messenger and other similar services provided a platform for people’s voices and opinions, and paved the way for the birth of social media.

“The two technological advances alongside this — which defined this era and escalated cyberbullying and online harassment  — were,” Lewinsky argued, “internet access from your handheld device (as in: all access, all of the time) and then the phone camera. Suddenly, everyone was a fashion and food photographer as well as a paparazzi.” Then came sexting, which further blurred the lines between private and public and further eroded the concept of trust.

Finally, Lewinsky said, this has all brought us to the moment we are in now, similar, she says, “to when in history the Model T Ford replaced the horse and buggy … At first, there were no rules of the road. But eventually, society caught up to the technology and coalesced around the idea of needing safer ways to navigate the roads in cars.” We are, she hopes, at the precipice of saying “enough is enough” and creating the framework for a safer and less abusive online space.

Read the full interview at Refinery29.


Monica Lewinsky develops new way to combat cyberbullying