A number of years ago a woman called Monica Lewinsky made international headlines overnight and became a household name even up until today. Her mistake was having an affair with her boss, who was the president of the United States at the time Bill Clinton. When the scandal broke the media went into a frenzy, finding out who this woman was, slut shaming her and general 24 hour coverage. This story broke in 1998, long before any substantial form of social media however there were still other means of harassing her as the digital revolution had begun in the very recent past.
Monica has become a public advocate in recent months against cyber bullying after a decade of silence. She felt it was time to speak out against “public shaming as a blood sport” as we see more and more people taking their own lives, as they have the narrative of their lives slip through their fingers.
Monica became ‘patient zero’ for a phenomenon that was to become cyber bullying. She was plastered all over the internet as well as the traditional media and was branded a tramp due to the scandal. The shaming, the humiliation and the harassment she claims nearly claimed her life. Throughout the following few years she witnessed how technology enhanced bullying has led to the very real situation of people ending lives saying
“Everyday online, people, especially young people who are not developmentally equipped to handle this, are so abused and humiliated that theycant imagine living through to the next day, and some tragically dont. There is nothing virtual about that.”
Monica makes reference to “The Snappening” hack, the iCloud celebrity nude photo leaks and the Sony hacking scandal and tells us how we have turned public humiliation into a commodity. It is now a raw material that is mined and ruthlessly exploited at the cost of others in order to turn a profit. Gossip websites make big money from advertisements on their sites with the more traffic they generate. But to generate this traffic they participate in the public humiliation of someone, anyone who was “stupid enough” to ever say something embarrassing, do something careless or even had the audacity take private photos.
“Public humiliation is a commodity and shame is an industry”
Just in the last few weeks in Ireland we saw a school boy, Ronan Hughes, take his life because he was being blackmailed over intimate photos that he had taken. Simply telling people not to take private photos of themselves does not make the problem go away. We have bred a culture that thrives on public humiliation and have become so desensitised to it that we don’t even see the problem with sharing it on Facebook. It is in our power to do something about it as Monica says towards the end of her speech, “shame cannot survive empathy”.
For more can watch Monica’s TED Talk ‘The price of shame‘ here