Since returning to the public life after a Vanity Fair interview in 2014, Monica Lewinsky has become a vocal anti-bullying advocate, and in particular fighting online harassment. This week the 40-year-old, in conjunction with US ad agency BBDO New York and Dini von Mueffling Communications, debuted a new anti-bullying public service announcement, In Real Life, which features actors reacting to the harassment and cyber bullying they have witnessed.
“It’s a stab in the gut. A punch. Someone hammering you on the head,” she told Glamour magazine of her experience of bullying in a recent interview.
Lewinsky was describing her sentiments towards being on the receiving end of humiliating vitriol and mocking memes for the past twenty years since her consensual affair with then President Bill Clinton was dubbed the “biggest political scandal” of the 90s. Despite forging her career as an entrepreneur, social psychologist, activist and columnist, Lewinsky has battled to shake the controversy, making her an early – and prime – target for cyber bullying.
The video focuses on the negative comments and threats targeted toward minority groups and include people’s experiences with homophobia, body-shaming, cultural and religious stereotyping and sexism. The harassment in the video continues until a good samaritan stands up to the trolls and defends those on the receiving end of the abuse, including a same-sex couple and Muslim group.
Speaking to People, Lewinsky said the video is focused on conveying the lack of consequence in trolling behind a screen
“People hiding behind a screen will write something they’d never say to someone’s face—and what that says about the inhumanity of their actions. It’s a stark and shocking mirror to people to rethink how we behave online versus the ways that we would behave in person,” she said.
The people in the video who overheard and reacted to defend others over comments made by the actors in the public spaces were not aware it was a set-up.
“Their reactions and actions were real. It was heartening to see real New Yorkers stand up for people. I especially loved that most intervened without bullying the bully, but instead standing up for the targets.”
As part of the campaign, Lewinsky has also worked on #bestrong emojis, a free downloadable app that gives tools to stand up against bullying. Lewinsky brought together a coalition of 12 anti-bullying organisations in the US, creating an emoji for each “so that the people who engage with their work have a way of showing solidarity using the emojis when they want to support someone.”
Just two weeks ago, Lewinsky found herself at the centre of a target attack, when a Twitter user posted a snarky comment about her during the #TakeTheKnee protest surrounding the NFL that swept the US last month. But Lewinsky has no time for the troll, rightfully replying that there was “nothing funny about #TheTheKnee.”
“There are many ways that I have been able to move forward but there are certainly times [like] with that meme that was going around, where I’m still held frozen in amber from incidents from two decades past,” she told People.
“It reminds me once again what it’s like to be on the other side. And it’s sometimes made worse when I know people I care about — especially my family — see these memes, too.”
“I’m not a punchline, I’m a human being” she says. “I’m a daughter, I’m a step-daughter, I’m a sister, I’m a cousin, a niece, an aunt. I’m dimensional, not just a punchline.”
In a 2015 TED talk, which has been view nearly eleven and a half million times, she said she became “patient zero of losing a personal reputation on a global scale almost instantaneously.”