Monica Lewinsky called for a societal shift to eliminate the widespread culture of bullying and humiliation online during a talk Tuesday at the Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College.
Lewinsky was a former White House intern who had a sexual relationship with President Bill Clinton and faced relentless judgment and bullying online when the relationship was revealed. The cyberbullying she endured brought on thoughts of suicide, but she was able to survive them because of the compassion and empathy shown by her friends, family and strangers, she said.
She would like to see a return to the values of compassion and empathy online, and the elimination of a culture where shame is a commodity that drives clicks and advertising sales, she said.
The talk, called “Post Positive: Change the Content,” was the latest event in the Community Foundation’s Making a Difference Speaker Series that aims to inspire conversations and introduce new perspectives.
Lewinsky was joined by a panel of local experts representing sectors such as public health and education. They addressed some of the community’s efforts to promote mental health and prevent suicide.
Cyberbullying is one of the factors that contribute to suicide risk and it is widespread.
At least one in five local high school students report being bullied and cyberbullied, said panelist Liane Jollon, executive director of San Juan Basin Public Health.
Eliminating bullying requires work on the individual, family and community level, she said.
Building social connection is key and can help normalize conversations about stress, mental health and mistakes as well as prevent negative behaviors, Jollon said. It’s particularly important for parents and other adults not to be dismissive when children and teens say they are experiencing a crisis, she said.
“Really just be a partner and figure out life with them because that is what you would want if you were experiencing a crisis,” she said.
In the online world, people can stand up for those who are bullied, just as they would in real life to help end the cruelty, Lewinksy said.
Since her experience in 1998, the darkness and shaming on the internet has mushroomed and swept up many private people, she said. But the distancing effect of technology shouldn’t remove our shared humanity, she said.
“Anyone who is suffering from shame and humiliation, needs to know one thing: You can survive it,” Lewinsky said.
Lewinsky will appear at noon Wednesday at the Henry Strater Theatre. This event will be a limited-seating luncheon with a storytelling focus. She will be joined by locals who will share their struggles with overcoming bullying.
Tickets for Wednesday’s event are $100 and can be purchased at www.swcommunityfoundation.org.