If you’re not following Monica Lewinsky on Twitter, you’re really missing out. There, the advocate and author “really lets fly,” she tells InStyle. It’s where she introduces herself as an “ex-beret model” and “rap song muse” (as well as TED-talk giver and Vanity Fair contributor). It’s where, after so many years of a narrative told wrong, we finally get to know who she really is.
“Over the past several years, social media has really provided me a chance for people to see my true self,” she says. “It’s very funny to think back to when I first started on Twitter, I wouldn’t post anything without showing it to at least two people — I was so petrified to post.” That’s not just because of the residual trauma from being made tabloid fodder in the formative years of her adulthood, but because now, in present day, social media can be a pretty terrible place to spend your time.
To that end, together with New York-based ad agency BBDO, Lewinsky has released a dark, cinematic PSA with a surprising interactive twist. She’s released three anti-bullying campaigns over the last three years — one, which brought digital bullying behavior into the real world, was even nominated for an Emmy. This time, it’s better to just watch it, and experience the story unfolding for yourself.
Lewinsky’s role in the creative vision of “The Epidemic” was that of emotional shepherd. “There are experiences I’ve had where the emotional imprint has sort of been threaded into the tapestry of the PSA,” she says. “I dipped into very personal and old places to help bring some emotional context to this.” In the video, a teen girl is watching the news and hearing of an “epidemic” that’s spreading. We see her become ill, running out of class to the bathroom at school one day; telling her mom she needs to stay home another. All the while, she’s clutching her phone. Viewers have to follow the prompt at the end of the ad and go to this link to see what, exactly, is going on there.
[Content warning: This video includes a depiction of self-harm that may be difficult for some to watch.]
It’s that moment on the couch in which Monica Lewinsky saw herself, and felt most strongly about getting a message across.
“The intensity of the texts that she’s receiving and the pace at which she starts to receive them, somebody who’s been crumbling emotionally because of the weight of the experience she’s going through, that is where I pushed really hard that it was important to me that people feel and understand the weight of that experience,” Lewinsky says. To get the feeling of bombardment across, she adds, “I took the team through the day the Starr report came out and what my experience was of that.”
Below, more of Lewinsky’s insight into the epidemic her latest ad seeks to cure, and the brass tacks of how she stays so active — and still has a good time — on social media.
Drafts, block, mute: How she keeps social media safe (and fun):
I joke about this but this is also true: I utilize my drafts folder. I don’t ever want to give a false impression that I don’t have a wrong thought or a catty thought, because I do, and that’s a realistic thing to being human and realizing that we’re going to have some of these tendencies — but how do we curb them?
It’s hard to practice what I preach sometimes. I’m a huge fan of blocking and muting people. I probably block more than I mute; that feels more empowering to me. I know a lot of other people feel muting is more empowering, they the love idea of someone screaming into a void.
On what gets people blocked or muted:
I don’t mind people criticizing me for things that are true. I have a really hard time with people who propagate false narratives about me that usually have to do with my past, things that make me start to feel bad about myself. I do a really good job of that all on my own, I don’t need other people to. But I chip away at the shame every day.
We’re having to work at this issue, to chip away coming at it from different places, and while we’re trying to help shift social behavior from other people who are choosing to engage in bullying behavior and online harassment, we can also shift the way think about how much empowerment we have. I wish none of that happened and nobody had to experience those things, but we are empowered. We do have ways to change that. Say what you will, I don’t have to listen.
On better uses of social platforms:
Humor is important, because it is a survival tool, both on and offline. There are some extraordinary people out there who find ways to school someone on social media without always going after them. That’s something I try to do, or try to hear something in a kinder voice. Of course naysayers always jump into the replies, but I’ve learned a lot from people who’ve pushed back on things I’ve said or corrected me.
On the “epidemic” of bullying:
When I was a kid, I’d go off on my bike, and to keep me safe, my parents would say, “Be home before sundown.” But now children or young people can be physically safe in their home, but they’re not emotionally safe because of what’s happening online. Bullying is a global epidemic; it can be hard to see the signs and it can also be hard to see what the offline damage is for online behavior.
As a society, it's ingrained in us to notice the physical symptoms of a sickness or of an illness, and we’re less trained to understand or see the emotional symptoms. There was research a few years ago showing how social exclusion and social pain, and physical pain travel some of the same neural pathways, so there’s actually a lot of linkage between how we experience social exclusion social pain, and physical pain. This particular research I had been given by my therapist who’s a trauma psychiatrist, but there’s an aspect of the campaign where we’re trying to bring an awareness to this phenomenon.
On the current infatuation with the ‘90s:
Oy, the berets!
The “Karmic Bank” of nice tweets:
I have this really corny personal edict, it’s like a spiritual thing for me, that whenever somebody says something kind to me in present day, and in that I include a recognition of feeling differently today than they did back then, it erases something negative that someone said to me or did to me in that period. It’s kind of like a Karmic bank, in a way.
It may sound silly, but these kinds of things are really valuable to me. It’s not always easy to be out there publicly or always using my voice, so when I hear that it has a positive impact for somebody, even in the teeniest of ways, it sort of fortifies me in the moments when I doubt myself.
On the basics of being a good person online:
I try to use my voice with the best judgment available to me at the time. I will say I chastise myself, sometimes I think I should be doing more and I worry that I don’t do enough, but I do try to be really thoughtful about how I use my voice and my public platform.
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