In her first major public speech since the Clinton affair, Monica Lewinsky on Monday called herself ‘patient zero’ in the epidemic of online bullying.
“I was patient zero: The first person to have their reputation completely destroyed worldwide via the Internet,” Lewinsky said.
Reflections on an attention onslaught
The former White House intern recounted binge-eating peanut M&Ms while holed up in a New York hotel room on the Sept. 1998 day that the Starr Report detailing her affair with President Bill Clinton was posted publically online.
“Staring at the computer screen, I spent the day shouting, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe I put that in,'” Lewinsky said of salicous personal details included in the report.
Knowing that “there was not a connected person in the world who wasn’t reading it too” made the pain and humiliation all the worse, she said.
“There are no borders. It honestly feels like the whole world is laughing at you,” Lewinsky said. “That amplified by a thousand-fold the shame and humiliation.”
Her story ‘can help’ others
Though the scandal broke in the days before Google and Facebook, Lewinsky reminded her audience of mostly 20-somethings that the website Drudge Report broke the news, and that gossip-site comment sections and e-mailing news stories existed in the mid-90s.
The former White House intern drew parallels between her experience and that of Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi, who committed suicide in Sept. 2010 after his roommate used a webcam to publicly air images of Clementi kissing another man.
Lewinsky mentioned the foundation Clementi’s parents started after his death — the Tyler Clementi Foundation “promotes safe, inclusive and respectful social environments in homes, schools, campuses, churches and the digital world for vulnerable youth, LGBT youth and their allies,” according to its website — and called for a culture change in an online world lacking empathy.
“I, too, was almost humiliated to death,” Lewinsky said. “I believe my story can help, help to do something to change the culture of humiliation.”
Lewinsky, moved to tears at one point during her speech, told the audience that she was nervous and asked for their forgiveness.
Her speech was met with a standing ovation.