Monica Lewinsky became one of the most unpopular women in the United States when the news of her affair with married former President Bill Clinton broke in 1998, but the media backlash may have in part been because she was not fully able to share her side of the story — but that hasn’t stopped Lewinsky from trying.
The former White House intern gave an emotional speech on Monday at the Forbes Under 30 Summit in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in which she detailed how the affair scandal and internet shaming destroyed her life.
“I was Patient Zero,” Lewinsky said in her speech, according to Forbes magazine. “The first person to have their reputation completely destroyed worldwide via the internet.”
She continued, “There was no Facebook, Twitter or Instagram back then, but there were gossip, news and entertainment websites replete with comment sections and emails which could be forwarded. Of course, it was all done on the excruciatingly slow dial-up. Yet around the world this story went. A viral phenomenon that, you could argue, was the first moment of truly ‘social media.'”
The aftermath of the affair left Lewinsky deeply depressed and there was a point in her life when she was unsure if she wanted to go on living.
“Staring at the computer screen, I spent the day shouting, ‘Oh my god!’ and ‘I can’t believe they put that in,” or ‘That’s so out of context,'” she said. “And those were the only thoughts that interrupted a relentless mantra in my head: ‘I want to die.'”
The public reaction left her humiliated, hurt and deeply remorseful, but with the hard lesson she has learned from the media blame game and public shaming, Lewinsky has found her calling. She has dedicated her time to helping others in the same position.
“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.”