As part of a campaign to raise awareness in the fight against online bullying, Vanity Fair contributor (and, yes, former White House intern) Monica Lewinsky has decided to jump headfirst into one of the grouchiest, most inhospitable echo chambers on the Internet: Twitter.
“[I was] the first person to have their reputation completely destroyed worldwide via the Internet,” said Lewinsky, now 41, speaking at Forbes‘s 30 Under 30 Summit in Philadelphia. “There was no Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram back then… But there were gossip, news, and entertainment websites replete with comment sections and emails which could be forwarded.”
She added, “Of course, it was all done on the excruciatingly slow dial-up.”
Lewinsky prominently joined the conversation about bullying in June, when she penned an essay for Vanity Fair outlining how her life had changed following the 1998 sex scandal with then-President Bill Clinton that nearly toppled his administration. For years, she wrote, she couldn’t find a job. She considered suicide. She was the target of constant harassment, both online and off: At a speaking engagement at Cooper Union in 2001, an audience member asked her what it felt like to be “America’s premier blow-job queen.”
That changed for her, she said, with the suicide of Rutgers student Tyler Clementi, who killed himself in 2010 when footage of him kissing another man surfaced on the Internet. Lewinsky has since set up a foundation with Clementi’s parents to help at-risk youth and members of the LGBT community deal with online bullying, and is now speaking out.
“In my own case, each easy click of that YouTube link reinforces the archetype, despite my efforts to parry it away: Me, America’s B.J. Queen. That Intern. That Vixen. Or, in the inescapable phrase of our 42nd president, ‘That Woman,'” she wrote in Vanity Fair. “It may surprise you to learn that I’m actually a person.”