London - “My name is Monica Lewinsky - though I've often been advised to change it.”
That is how the bete noire of the late 90s introduced herself to a large crowd of millennials at Forbes’ Under 30 Summit in Philadelphia on Monday morning, marking the beginning of Lewinsky’s first public speaking engagement in more than a dozen years.
By the time Lewinsky concluded her emotional presentation on the perils of public humiliation in the digital age, the Twitter-sphere was abuzz with excitement over Lewinsky’s apparent comeback, showering her with praise for her courage.
Lewinsky, 41, joined Twitter less than two hours before taking the stage at the Forbes conference, where she was invited to speak about the “scourge of harassment in the digital age.”
“Overnight I went from being a completely private figure to a publicly humiliated one. I was Patient Zero, the first person to have their reputation completely destroyed worldwide via the Internet,” Lewinsky told a rapt crowd in a room where, according to multiple eyewitness accounts shared on Twitter, one could hear a pin drop.
Lewinsky, best known worldwide for her sordid affair with President Bill Clinton, did not mince words when addressing that part of her biography.
“Sixteen years ago, fresh out of college...I fell in love with my boss,” Lewinsky declared from the stage in Philadelphia, before launching into an impassioned speech about the price she had been forced to pay for her youthful indiscretion.
“I lost my public self, or had it stolen,” she said of her ruthless treatment at the hands of journalists and late-night comics. “In a way, it was a form of identity theft.
“In 1998, ‘public Monica, that Monica, that woman’ was born. I was publicly identified and someone I did not recognise.”
Looking back on her experiences, Lewinsky explained to the 20- and 30-somethings in the audience that while there was no social media back in the 90s, there were 'gossip, news and entertainment websites' that latched on to the Clinton scandal, relishing each detail with gusto.
“Of course, it was all done on the excruciatingly slow dial up. Yet around the world this story went,” she recalled, according to Forbes. “A viral phenomenon that, you could argue, was the first moment of truly ‘social media.’”
Fighting back tears, Lewinsky talked about how her mother was devastated by the suicide of bullied Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi in 2010.
“She was back in 1998...when she might've lost me,” Lewinsky confided in the audience, referring to the year when Drudge Report broke the news of her affair with the president online.
In the months that followed the bombshell revelations, an emotional Lewinsky said she was constantly tormented by thoughts of suicide.
Despite overwhelming odds, Lewinsky said she somehow managed to survive the bullying, relentless harassment and public humiliation, but her outlook for the future is tinged with pessimism.
“There is a compassion crisis, an empathy deficit,” she pointed out. “There's no way to wrap your head around when it will end.”
Lewinsky used her first foray into the public sphere in more than a decade to announce her plan to launch a “cultural revolution” against cyber-bullying.
The 41-year-old said she was inspired by Tyler Clementi's story to share her own tale of hardship and perseverance in a bid to prevent the next tragedy.
“Having survived myself, what I want to do now is help other victims of the shame game survive, too,” she said. “I want to put my suffering to good use and give purpose to my past.”
At the conclusion of her remarks, the audience gave Lewinsky a roaring standing ovation.
Guests at the summit took to Twitter, describing Lewinsky’s speech as both “courageous” and “inspiring.”
The three-day conference hosted by Forbes Magazine opened in Philadelphia on Sunday. - Daily Mail