Monica Lewinsky: Stop the 'blood sport' of shaming people online

Monica Lewinsky stood in front of advertising executives in Cannes, and told them to stop the “blood sport” of public shaming on the internet.

“Public shaming as a blood sport must stop. It’s time for an intervention on the Internet and in the culture,” Lewsinky said.

In her speech at Cannes Lion called herself “patient zero” — the first private figure to become a mockery of the internet.

“In 1998, I lost my reputation and my dignity. I lost almost everything, and I almost lost my life,” Lewinsky told the crowd.

When news of her affair with President Bill Clinton broke online in 1998, Lewinsky said the rush to judgement by the public was “unprecedented.” And it wasn’t just about the act, but about her as a person. Banner ads were sold online with her face and people tuned into the TV to see her photo, especially the famous beret one, she acknowledged.

“When this happened to me 17 years ago, there was no name for this. Today we call it cyberbullying and online harassment,” Lewinsky said.

We now have a term for this because it does happen so frequently.

Lewinsky called out several examples, including Justine Sacco who had her life derailed after a tasteless joking tweet about Africa.

“This was not something that happened with regularity in 1998, and by this I mean the stealing of people’s private words, conversations, actions or even pictures and then making them public — public without consent, public without context and public without compassion,” Lewinsky said.

Now, an entire industry has been built around shame, since it’s moved from the private life to the public one, Lewinsky argued.

People’s stories, whether an errant tweet or something worse, are packaged and sold for profit. The leaked emails from the Sony Pictures hack, the celebrity iCloud photo leaks and, most recently, Caitlyn Jenner being exploited by gossip rags, are all examples, Lewinsky said, of when private information was leaked to make a profit.

Lewinsky’s solution was a return to something the internet has lost: empathy.

“The shift begins with something simple, but it’s not easy,” Lewinsky said. “We need to return to a long-held value of compassion, compassion and empathy.”

You can read the full transcript of Lewinsky’s remarks by Adweek here.

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