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Monica Lewinsky Silences TED Crowd With Poignant Talk on Cyberbullying's Toll

"Public shaming as a blood sport has to stop," Lewinsky said.

James Duncan Davidson / TED

Monica Lewinsky, perhaps before anyone else and as much as anyone else, found out what it was like to have her entire personal life put on the Internet.

But, she says, the experience that was unique in 1998 is all too common today.

“Public shaming as a blood sport has to stop,” Lewinsky said during a poignant 20-minute TED talk on Thursday.

One cost is the individual toll felt by the targets of cyberbullying, she said. That is felt in the humiliation and pain experienced by so many young people and the suicides of people like Tyler Clementi.

The flip side, though, is all the money being made through personal material that is leaked online.

“A marketplace has emerged,” Lewinsky said. “Shame is an industry.”

Money is made through clicks. “The more shame, the more clicks,” she said. “The more clicks the more advertising dollars.”

It’s not the first time Lewinsky has spoken on the topic. She returned to public life nine months ago with a speech at the Forbes Under 30 Summit.

Lewinsky told a funny tale from that conference about getting hit on by a 24-year-old guy. His unsuccessful pick-up-line? He said he could make her feel 22 again.

No thanks.

The most common question Lewinsky said she has gotten since she started speaking out after a decade of silence is “why?”

Why is she speaking out at all and why now?

Lewinsky’s answer: “Because it is time. Time to stop tip-toeing around my past … and time to take back my narrative.”

And, as she outlined in her talk, it’s not just about her. She ended by speaking to those directly experiencing the toll of the kind of shame she felt back in 1998.

“You can survive it,” she said. “I know it is hard. It may not be painless, quick or easy. You can insist on a different end to your story.”

Update: TED has posted a video clip from her talk.

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