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Monica Lewinsky’s Powerful TED Talk on Bullying

“Patient Zero” for the internet shame cycle reclaims her narrative, and makes the case for compassion in the face of bullying

image via youtube screen capture

“Who didn’t make a mistake at 22?”


Coming from Monica Lewinsky, that’s a fairly loaded question. It’s also a defiant show of strength from a woman who has learned much in the years following the incident that made her a household name. Having been forced into the public eye right as the internet was becoming the dominant force in media, she was, as she tells it “Patient Zero of losing a personal reputation on a global scale almost instantaneously.” Now, nearly two decades later, Lewinsky is reclaiming her own narrative, and using her experiences to elevate the way in which we all treat one another.

In a talk titled “The Price Of Shame,” given last week at the TED2015 conference, Lewinsky does not shy away from her role in the 1998 scandal that bears her name. But, in the ensuing, excruciatingly public scrutiny of her private life, she “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.”

In a post-#HasJustineLandedYet" world, where online trolls target women simply for speaking up about video games, Lewinsky’s words should give us all pause.

For Monica herself, it was the death of Tyler Clementi, who committed suicide after classmates secretly filmed his tryst with another male student, which served to spur her into action. Having been harassed, mocked, and bullied herself, she demands in no uncertain terms that “public humiliation as a blood sport has to stop.”

Now in her 40s, Lewinsky has had longer than nearly anyone else to examine what it means to have been in the eye of a digitally-fueled storm. To her it comes down to a question of compassion. “We all deserve compassion,” she concludes her speech, “and to live both online and off in a more compassionate world.”

You can watch her entire TED talk below:

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