“We talk a lot about our right to freedom of expression, but we need to talk more about our responsibility to freedom of expression. We all want to be heard, but let’s acknowledge the difference between speaking up with intention and speaking up for attention. The Internet is the superhighway for the id, but online, showing empathy to others benefits us all and helps create a safer and better world. We need to communicate online with compassion, consume news with compassion, and click with compassion. Just imagine walking a mile in someone else’s headline.” – Monica Lewinsky
Monica Lewinsky has been in over forty rap songs. For almost two decades, she has also been the target of punchlines, puns, and comedy sketches in more ways than one individual can count. A lifetime has passed since the scandal that rocked the United States and in some ways, it’s evident to see that Bill Clinton has been forgiven, Monica however continues to wear the invisible scarlet letter that labels her as just one thing and nothing more.
I first learned about Monica Lewinsky in the fourth grade. And while I don’t recall as to how I came across her, I do remember how violently she was attacked. In my young, impressionable mind however, she was given the treatment because she deserved it.
Fast-forward to 2014 and Monica comes out of her “self imposed” decade of silence by speaking up to Vanity Fair. No longer 10 years old, my curiosity as a 26 year old couldn’t help but click on the link to see how she could have possibly survived a scandal that can’t seem to escape her. She thought her silence would be enough to wash everything away but that wasn’t the case.
So she decided to speak to give herself a chance to change her narrative and while reading through her article, I couldn’t help but think how many mistakes have we made that caused people to think of us differently?
As I read through her recollection of what happened in the past 17 years and how it has affected every facet of her life, I couldn’t help but be thankful over the fact that my life’s biggest mistakes were not broadcasted on a larger scale. How difficult it would be to introduce one’s self when a perception has already been made and how difficult it is to jumpstart on a life that has already been defined by others.
In a world where everything happens in a click, it’s no surprise to note that many ordinary people deal with what Monica dealt with a good seventeen years ago. There used to be a time when our mistakes could be hidden in the shadows, however now, with the rise of social media and overly efficient gadgets, mistakes are brought to larger scale. And instead of just dealing with our physical community, we are faced to also answer to a larger, anonymous one: the Internet.
This new culture of humiliation as penned by Monica is what made her come out of hiding. Imbibed with passion, Monica is determined to promote a culture of sympathy and empathy within the internet community and while it may seem like an impossibility, it is not improbable.
Most of us are still grappling with our understanding of the Internet. No other generation has been given such freedom and with this freedom comes many perks, the ability to work from home, the wonderful opportunity to connect with loved ones, and even the prospect of meeting the love of our lives online. However, attached with these perks is the abuse of it. How many stories have we heard of cyberbullying in the past three months alone? How many lives have we lost because children, who are not yet equipped to handle the mental and emotional distress of being humiliated, have chosen the easy way out too soon?
Our gadgets give us the chance to be in control, however, how control are we truly? The truth is there is no control. The moment something is uploaded on the internet, it stays there forever. So while it’s equally important to take care of ourselves and what we post, we must also apply the same caution to those around us. If we know that what we’re uploading or sharing will cause harm, do we continue to upload it for the sake of a few more likes? Or do we stop and wonder, what if this was me? My mom? A loved one? Will I humiliate them in this way?
Empathy is so difficult to find on the internet, but it really isn’t difficult to adhere to. All you have to think of is this, “If this was me, how would I feel?”
It takes us back to kindergarten, our earliest values, and yet sometimes, these are the values that we easily forget. It’s time to wake up and once and for all believe that bullying, especially cyberbullying, will finally come to an end.