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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 TED Talk.

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 things.

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 suicidal thoughts.

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 image.

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.

-Telegraph UK

 

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