A tearful Monica Lewinsky participated in her first public speaking engagement in more than a decade, and certainly made waves at the Forbes Under 30 Summit.
Invited to talk about the “scourge of harassment in the digital age,” Lewinsky, 41, opened her emotional speech with, “My name is Monica Lewinsky – though I’ve often been advised to change it,” according to reports. The controversial figure, who famously had an affair with President Bill Clinton, joined Twitter only hours before she took the stage, but despite a social media absence, she said she knew what it was like to by cyber bullied.
“Overnight I went from being a completely private figure to a publicly humiliated one,” she said. “I was Patient Zero, the first person to have their reputation completely destroyed worldwide via the Internet.”
Lewinsky maintained her blunt honesty throughout her speech, even when addressing the sex scandal that turned her into a household name. She told the crowd, “Sixteen years ago, fresh out of college...I fell in love with my boss.
“I lost my public self, or had it stolen,” she said of the ways she was harassed by the media. “In a way, it was a form of identity theft.”
Although social media didn’t yet exist in the ‘90s, Lewinsky assured the millennial crowd that the lack of Facebook and Twitter didn’t prevent the story from spreading like wildfire, despite slow Internet speeds.
“Of course, it was all done on the excruciatingly slow dial up. Yet around the world this story went,” she recalled, according to Forbes. “A viral phenomenon that, you could argue, was the first moment of truly ‘social media.’”
Lewinsky reportedly fought back tears throughout her presentation, especially when she began to talk about Tyler Clementi, the freshman from Rutgers University who committed suicide after consistent bullying. She confided in the crowd that she was often plagued by suicidal thoughts back in 1998, when the scandal first broke.
“Having survived myself, what I want to do now is help other victims of the shame game survive, too,” she said. “I want to put my suffering to good use and give purpose to my past.”
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