As Hillary Clinton’s campaign video went viral on social media, I stumbled upon a TED talk on cyber bullying given last month by Monica Lewinsky. Some people might question Lewinsky’s intention of going public at this time of the year, while others may not take her seriously. However, I believe that each individual has the right to share his/her part of the narrative, and that everyone deserves a little compassion from the world.
I was still a kid when the Lewinsky scandal broke, so I only have a very vague memory of the incident. Nonetheless, I can still recall the ridicule and negativity imposed on this woman by the Chinese media and public (7,000 miles away from the epicenter). As a kid, I had no idea how devastating a situation like this could be for an individual. However, after watching Monica’s TED talk, I came to understand what it is like for a young woman to be put under excruciating public scrutiny and humiliation. I admire her for having the courage to admit her mistake, face her past with grace, and use her experience to advocate for a more compassionate cyber environment.
I had never looked at it this way until watching her talk, but Monica is right, she is “Patient Zero” of cyber bullying. Today, 17 years later, the Internet is populated by public shaming, on an even larger scale, involving both private and public individuals. Why? The vicious cycle of posts and clicks.
“A marketplace has emerged where public humiliation is a commodity and shame is an industry. How is the money made? Clicks. The more shame, the more clicks. The more clicks, the more advertising dollars. We’re in a dangerous cycle. The more we click on this kind of gossip, the more numb we get to the human lives behind it, and the more numb we get, the more we click. All the while, someone is making money off of the back of someone else’s suffering. With every click, we make a choice. The more we saturate our culture with public shaming, the more accepted it is, the more we will see behavior like cyber bullying, trolling, some forms of hacking, and online harassment.”
I totally agree. The saturation of humiliation and the public consumption of it have made us numb and indifferent to the human side of an online figure. I still remember how the public went crazy for the nude pictures of female celebrities when the Edison Chen sex scandal broke in China. Almost everyone has seen those pictures. The irony is that instead of showing compassion to those female victims of the photo leak, netizens, especially male netizens, started slut-shaming and name-calling, yet still downloaded and saved the pictures on their computers. Almost all of those female celebrities’ careers were destroyed after the scandal, regardless of how many public apologies they made. To be honest, I don’t think they owe any apology to the public. They are the victims of a disgusting photo leak. They are the ones that were exposed, consumed, and discarded. They are the ones that deserve the most compassion and support, but few people stood up for them.
As Monica said in her speech, “public shaming as a blood sport has to stop, and the shift begins with something simple, but it’s not easy. We need to return to a long-held value of compassion – compassion and empathy”. To conclude, I want to borrow a slogan from WildAid: