What Will Monica Lewinsky's TED Talk Be About?

by Clarissa-Jan Lim

The Bill Clinton sex scandal set the nation afire with gossip and slander for a good few months back in 1998. Although the former president was widely denigrated during that time and then in the ensuing years, the sometimes-cruel scrutiny of the media sent undoubtedly the most famous and most notorious of White House interns underground into a quiet, low-profile life. Now making a gradual foray back into public life, almost 20 years after the affair rocked the country, Monica Lewinsky will give a TED talk on cyberbullying on March 19, a topic fitting for the person who experienced first hand the media's bloodthirsty ways, pre-social media.

Set to take place during the TED 2015 Truth and Dare meeting in Vancouver, Canada, the bio on the event website said that Lewinsky's speech will aim to promote,

[A] safer and more compassionate social media environment, drawing from her unique experiences at the epicenter of a media maelstrom in 1998.

Following her lengthy absence from the public eye, Lewinsky, now 41, returned in June 2014 with a widely-lauded essay in Vanity Fair detailing the enduring public humiliation she faced, even years after the incident that led to President Clinton's impeachment. She drew similarities between her experience with the media and public in the late 90s and present-day cases of high-profile cyberbullying.


The turning point, she wrote in the essay, was the death of Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old Rutgers freshman who committed suicide in 2010 after his roommate secretly streamed his kissing another man online. She wrote:

In the wake of Tyler’s tragedy, my own suffering took on a different meaning. Perhaps by sharing my story, I reasoned, I might be able to help others in their darkest moments of humiliation.

Following the Vanity Fair piece that went on to garner a National Magazine Awards nomination, Lewinsky delivered a major public speech in October last year announcing her anti-bullying campaign. Addressing attendees at a Forbes' 30 Under 30 Summit, she said the scandal was likely the first moment of "social media," because at the dawn of the Internet age, gossip, news and entertainment websites — complete with comment sections open to the public — helped spread the incident like wildfire.

Surely not without some acrimony, Lewinsky told the audience:

Overnight, I went from being a completely private figure to a publicly humiliated one. I was Patient Zero.

The 1998 scandal that threw the then-22-year-old fresh graduate into the barbed clutches of the media was followed by a decade of silence, during which time the now-social activist received a Masters in Social Psychology from the London School of Economics and Political Science. Talk about a comeback.

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