Monica Lewinsky’s entire life has been whittled down to her relatively brief yet highly public affair with then-President Bill Clinton. As soon as information regarding the news was leaked to the media, 22-year-old Lewinsky’s life forever changed. She suddenly found herself victim to discourteous judgement and harassment, both online and off.
While the internet in 1996 was nowhere close to being the commanding juggernaut it is today, Refinery29, who recently interviewed Lewinsky for their Reclaim Your Domain campaign, an attempt to make the internet a safer place, argues Clinton’s mistress was the first-ever victim of cyberbullying.
Instead of becoming the media-starved harlot most publications tried to make her out to be, Lewinsky paved a different path entirely and used her scandalized past into a platform for challenging bully culture. Though she doesn’t even touch upon the 2016 election at all (which I’m sure was a stipulation before she agreed to the sit-down), Lewinsky does offer some important insights regarding the current state of online harassment and uses her own experiences to serve as fodder. Here were the best takes from the interview.
On how to take power away from trolls.
“Let me know when you find that answer!” Lewinsky exclaims, before explaining how she managed to withstand the public lashings she endured. To do this, Lewinsky cites the fact that friends and family are of the utmost importance, especially when they reflect back to you who you truly are, not how strangers perceive you. Understandably then, Lewisnky found the positive comments she received through all the negativity did manage to break through. “The negative comments sting a little less when I see others have disagreed or said something positive,” she said. (As a writer, I wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment. Nice comments are bee’s knees.)
On what birthed cyber bullying.
Lewisnky believes Facebook and Twitter have introduced “an interesting phenomenon online of extreme individualism within a global collective,” and adds that these technological advances, combined with limitless internet access from your handheld device and the phone camera, are what’s ultimately to blame for the onset of online harassment. And it makes sense. When we’re constantly posting updates of our personal lives online, we make them public. And by making them public, we’re opening ourselves to ridicule, especially from people who hide behind avatars. Eventually, this behavior began to evolve at an alarmingly quick rate to become the menacing conduct cyber bullying is today.
Despite the rather bleak state of cyberbullying, Lewinsky believes we’re on the brink of a breakthrough when it comes to harassment through sexting. To explain her point, she elucidates we’re approaching a time similar to then in history when the Model T Ford replaced the horse and buggy. “At first, there were no rules of the road,” she explains. “But eventually, society caught up to the technology and coalesced around the idea of needing safer ways to navigate the roads in cars.”
She continues, “I think we are approaching that moment with the internet: When there is a social collision between the bullycides, online mobs and doxxing, as in Gamergate, and a company like Twitter losing out on a major sale because of toxic comments, we might be on the precipice of finally saying enough is enough. I hope.” If Lewinsky’s inclination is correct, could that mean laws will be implemented online regarding harassment? It seems that way.
On how to defeat trolls.
“In dealing with trolls, or any form of cyberbullying or online harassment, the only rule I abide by is that there is no rule of thumb,” Lewinsky admits. “Not every tactic works for every target or perpetrator of this behavior.” She eventually determines “clever humor that isn’t shaming the other person” is what works best for her. Her most effective mode of attack? To merely ask people if they want to reconsider the comment they posted. “It works 50 percent of the time,” she reveals.