At last look, Monica Lewinsky's TED talk, The Price of Shame, was at over 500,000 views. Now trending for the right reasons, Lewinsky has positioned herself as an activist in the case against Public Humiliation. Alongside her own experience as Patient Zero of Internet scandal, she cites the horrendous case of Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers University student who killed himself after a roommate secretly filmed him with another man, and then posted it online. Her voice breaks as she speaks of her family's fears that in 1998, as the Clinton administration launched a brutal smear campaign against her, she might be "humiliated to death, literally".
It's a horrifying thought, being humiliated to death. Yet Tyler Clementi is just one of many teens who have committed suicide as a result of intense cyberbullying. Lewinsky hits the hard stats, detailing that ChildLine reported an 87% increase in calls and emails related to Cyberbullying from 2012 to 2013. That's huge, and I had no idea. My school years passed just as the online world began spinning, so while it's a phenomenon I didn't have to grow up with, it's still one that I recognise and encounter as an adult, shrugging off the trolls as best I can. We've all stood in playgrounds, all had our deepest, darkest fears revealed and ridiculed at an age when we weren't equipped to deal with it, our sense of self still light-years away. Now, as sites like Ask.com pop up faster than they can be moderated, the teenage propensity for cruelty has endless means that aren't limited to Twitter and Facebook.
And yes, I'm making a point of not mentioning the past Monica Lewinsky wants to shake. The Internet makes that impossible enough; the infinite ream of 1998 clippings will forever be a Google away. Yesterday's news is no longer simply bin lining, unfortunately – scandals are elongated, pasts fervently dredged and identities appropriated whether you're just finishing college or a big-deal celebrity. It's time, Lewinsky concludes, to take back narratives.
The Internet amplifies the human condition, for better and for worse. As Lewinsky points out in her talk, "it has connected people in unimaginable ways", but this virtual freedom has, as we well know, a dark side. Online, there's no face reacting to the horrific comments, few consequences for the perpetrators and because of the age-old excuse 'everyone was doing it', there's the dangerous ability to shirk any personal role in forum threads that spiral out of control. It wasn't me, it was them.
The teenage world has always been a mysterious one. Direct access is largely denied to adults, but advocates are a different story and this year Monica Lewinsky is not the only one spotlighting the issue. Here are some examples:
Jon Ronson has just released his latest book, So You've Been Publicly Shamed, in which he tries to unpack, via interviews with famously shamed people like Justine Sacco, the effect digital shaming has on people, and why we cumulatively take to public shaming with such glee.
The reviews are just filtering in for the teen bully faux-documentary, A Girl Like Her.
The UK is about to get episode two of the revealing Teens, this week.
Maisie Williams is speaking out after releasing Cyberbully.
The Canadian Safe School Network brought out their harrowing take on a Jimmy Kimmel feature with Kids Read Mean Tweets, at the beginning of the month.
It's a reassuringly long list. Perhaps it's cheesy, but as Lewinsky signs off her TED with the message that we all should try a little more online compassion, I can't help but succumb. Time to start a few new narratives.
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