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Monica Lewinsky’s Purgatory

Ryan Lash/TED CC

Relentlessly and cruelly shamed, she's already paid her price

By now we’re all pretty used to famous misuses of technology, whether in the case of female celebrities who are threatened by faceless misogynists claiming to have possession of stolen nude photos, or public figures who have had their private phone conversations tapped and their emails hacked. But with the advent of social media, it isn’t just celebrities who are the targets of digital abuse; the devastating impact of cyber bullying is clear from many instances of teen suicide. Apparently, the UK non-profit ChildLine has experienced an 87% increase in calls and emails relating to cyber bullying in recent years. This is why Monica Lewinsky’s story matters – as she says, “online we’ve got a compassion deficit, an empathy crisis.”
A few years ago, a British journalist discovered that the troll who had been pursuing him with vile death threats and disturbing images for three years was his friend’s 17-year-old son; it turned out the teen was just thinking of it all “like a game thing." Cases like these make it very clear, if your own experience hasn’t already, that it’s a lack of empathy and an inability to see the people you are interacting with online as part of reality that is at the root of the problem. We need to teach our children that relating to someone online is just like relating to someone face-to-face.
The digital world has developed so fast that it seems to have left our social morality behind. Lewinsky’s message, that “we need to return to a long-held value of compassion,” is sorely needed. It is high time we made compassion, mercy, and empathy central to our online lives.
Sophie Caldecotthas a BA in Literature and an MA in Magazine Journalism from City University, London. She is a freelance writer and Headline Writer for Verily Magazine, and is in the process of founding a website called A Better Place Journal.

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