It’s not a distinction Monica Lewinsky is proud of, but in many ways, she was Patient Zero for cyberbullying. Today, she is a leading voice in the fight against online public shaming and its effects on young people. Working with the ad agency BBDO New York over the past three years, she has helped craft a series of searing public service announcements that bring to life some devastating statistics: that 59% of American teens have been harassed online, and a UNICEF poll found that one in three teens in 30 countries had been subjected to some form of cyberbullying. “The Epidemic,” which was launched in October 2019 and attracted national media such as The Today Show and Teen Vogue, follows an average American teen named Haley who fakes illness due to her peers’ unrelenting digital torment. It is told from two perspectives—her parents’ and her own—and builds to a harrowing climax. “We often pay attention when we see physical pain, right?” Lewinsky says, explaining how she came to the idea of externalizing the internal hurt caused by digital abuse. “It might be crutches or a cast, but we don’t see it in the same way as emotional pain, and it’s not as immediately obvious.” One moment in particular stands out to her. “It’s not a re-creation from my life in any way, but the sofa scene was something I drew on talking to the creative team about what it felt like the day the Starr Report came out, that tsunami of anxiety and shame and fear—and public humiliation.” Lewinsky is now extending her activism to longer-form media, as a producer on the third season of FX’s American Crime Story (about the Clinton impeachment case that first made her the subject of targeted harassment) and in a documentary feature for HBO Max called 15 Minutes of Shame, about the culture of public shaming.
WATCH: Monica Lewinsky is reclaiming her narrative through storytelling activism