Monica Lewinsky's Price of Shame
To mark Safer Internet Day, Monica Lewinsky, who refers to herself as
'patient zero' of internet shaming, explains to Emma Barnett in a rare Q
and A, why she's trying to combat cyberbullying and how an emoji
keyboard may help
Q: Your powerful 2015 TED Talk (a non-profit devoted to
spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks 18 minutes
or less), 'The Price of Shame', was the first time you publicly spoke in
more than a decade. You chose to break your silence about shame,
specifically about being shamed on the internet - why?
Monica Lewinsky during her TED talk about the price of
shame: JAMES DUNCAN DAVIDSON
A: I saw the alarming rise in the number of people shamed and
bullied on the internet - especially young people - some of whom were
even, tragically, driven to suicide. It was important to share my own
experience and to offer a message of understanding and of hope and to
say, "You can survive this".
I've been gratified to see how the TED Talk has resonated with
people. It's been quite a personal shift for people to come up to me and
instead of saying, "Do you know who you look like?" they comment on the
Q:And now you are working as anti-bullying ambassador (to The
Diana Award and Bystander Revolution) - why?
A: I know what it feels like to feel shamed and to be bullied.
It took me a long time but I feel like I've finally been able to take
back my narrative and give a purpose to my past. I want other people to
know they can do this too.
It's a privilege to have a life where I can sometimes help ease
others' suffering. By sharing how I have tried to transcend shame to
survival, it lets others know that hanging in there is an option.
Much of the suffering comes from a feeling of being alone. By being
active and reaching out, we can show solidarity with the victims and
banish that sense of loneliness and isolation.
Q: How do you think this new emoji keyboard you are launching
with Vodafone can really help?
A: The #BeStrong Emojis are a simple way to show support and
compassion for someone being cyberbullied. Cyberbullying happens
anywhere, at any time, and often requires a fast response. We (Vodafone
and myself) did one of the biggest global surveys about cyberbullying,
which found that a lot of teens find it difficult to find the right
words for friends being cyberbullied - and they liked the idea of an
emoji they can send to their friends to show they are there for them.
Five thousand teenagers then picked their favorite #BeStrong emojis out
of a large selection.
The internet can be a loud and instant way for people to say hurtful
things. Things you would never say if you had to stand up and say them
in public - and this can be directed at any groups or individuals. But
the internet is also a way for people to come together and do positive
In 1998, I received extremely kind letters from individuals. Those
letters helped me. Seeing what I have of crowd behaviour, if these
letters had been posts on social media, others could have followed. The
internet can be a great place to show support and grow compassionate
behaviour, which is the thinking behind the #BeStrong initiative and the
creation of the emoji.
Q: How bad do you think cyberbullying really is? Is it worse
than people think?
A: Cyberbullying is isolating, hurtful and relentless. One in
five teens we spoke to said they'd been cyberbullied, and a disturbing
20 per cent of those teenagers who had been cyberbullied said they had
What's important about the current state of cyberbullying is that
there is now a discourse. This helps to de-stigmatise bullying and, in
turn, that will make it easier for people to seek help.
Q: How can parents step in earlier?
A: Speaking to children about internet safety from a young age
is important and, as far as bullying and cyberbullying are concerned,
encouraging them to tell someone if it is happening to them. Around 40
per cent of the teens surveyed didn't tell their parents they had been
cyberbullied. They felt ashamed, scared their parents would get
involved, or worried what their parents might do. Parents can access any
number of organisations devoted to fighting against cyberbullying, like
the The Diana Award's anti-bullying Programme in the UK or Bystander
Revolution in the US.
Parents can also teach their kids about being upstanders - to report
a bullying situation or offer support to someone who has been bullied on
or offline. The #BeStrong emojis were designed with this pro-social
behaviour in mind. Teaching kids empathy and compassion will also help
build their resilience.
Q: Some people think that technology companies, such as
Twitter, have done all they can do; that cyberbullying and shaming are
real world problems which need real life solutions - do you agree?
A: There are many inroads to moving towards a solution. Of
course, I'm not saying it is the only thing that should be done, but one
thing that could help right now is if social media platforms opened up
their public facing platforms to things like the #BeStrong anti-bullying
emojis. This would provide people - bystanders and witnesses- with the
opportunity to comment in a fast and supportive way. The brain processes
images faster than it does text. So the quickest way to reach someone
who is suffering from online harassment or cyberbullying is with an
Q: What's your message to any young person reading this who
may be struggling with online abuse right now?
A: Remember that you're not alone. Cyberbullying can make you
feel that way. It can make you feel isolated and hurt, but these
feelings will pass.
Tell someone you trust right away, be it a parent, brother or sister
or a friend. Make sure you report the abuse and, most importantly, stay
positive. Things will get better. Be sure to reach out to organizations
and groups in your community designed specifically to help victims of
cyberbullying. I promise there is help out there.
Monica Lewinsky has worked with Vodafone to create the #BeStrong
anti-bullying keyboard, which is available on the App Store and is
coming to Google Play soon.