The #MeToo movement was 20 years too late for Monica Lewinsky.
Lewinsky, of course, was the 22-year-old White House intern who had “relations” with 49-year-old then-President Bill Clinton that, in 1998, set off a firestorm of lying and coverup that ultimately ended in Clinton’s impeachment by the House of Representatives and his acquittal by the Senate.
The Arkansas State Bar suspended Clinton’s license to practice law for five years, and the United States Supreme Court disbarred him from practicing before it, but Clinton was not run out of office. Unlike Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein or actor Kevin Spacey, who were quickly dethroned as kings of Hollywood, Clinton enjoyed a campaign and re-election free of public disclosure of his indiscretions with Lewinsky. He also finished his second term, even after the Lewinsky revelations became public, and continued on to enjoy personal and professional success on the speaking circuit and as a philanthropist for global causes.
Lewinsky didn’t have it so good.
Lewinsky considers herself ground zero for internet bullying. Unlike Clinton’s continued success and popularity, the public shamed Lewinsky and drove her out of public life. In her own words, “This scandal was brought to you by the digital revolution.” It was the first time online media outlets broke such a big story.
Lewinsky broke her silence about the controversy with an essay in 2014. In 2015, she presented a TED talk titled “The Price of Shame.” The talk has been viewed more than 11 million times. Last weekend she held her first public ticketed event in Park City for the Park City Institute to an audience of over 1,000.
Speaking about cyberbullying, Lewinsky shared her experience as a victim of a large and uncontrollable campaign of embarrassment and public ridicule. She said, “A marketplace has emerged where public humiliation is a commodity and shame is an industry.”
“Public shaming as a blood sport has to stop.” She continued, “We need to communicate online with compassion, consume news with compassion, and click with compassion.”
She would know.
We live in a world where information is published almost instantaneously with the event it documents. Everyone has the ability to post pictures and commentary that is then liked and shared beyond the limited circles of the person to whom the event happened. Few people moderate their comments. Few people care about the effect their words will have on others.
Youths, especially, are vulnerable to hurtful social media posts that become truth before they can be processed. Perception is reality. We owe it to our children, and ourselves, to take Lewinsky’s experience and her counsel to heart and be more compassionate with our online activities.