The privilege of anonymity has enabled people using online comment sections and social media to unleash hate-fueled vitriol at virtually every demographic, completely without consequence. Few people know that better than Monica Lewinsky, who came into the public eye just as use of the internet started really taking off and has referred to herself as “patient zero” of internet shaming.
Her latest project is an anti-bullying public service announcement focused on the detrimental effects of online comments and how utterly ridiculous they sound when they are said to people offline in real life. The video, entitled “In Real Life,” features actors saying and receiving comments typically reserved for the internet to people in real-world situations. For example, in one scene, a white woman approaches a woman with darker skin on the street, saying, “You know what? All of you Muslims need to go back to the hellholes you’re from.” Another features a man accosting a gay couple in a restaurant, saying, “I think gay people are sick, and you guys should just kill yourself.”
It’s pretty hard to watch, but that makes the message that much more impactful. If you’re horrified by people saying these things to strangers in real life, why would it ever be acceptable to do the same thing online? Also of note is the fact that all of the comments featured in the video are real social media posts.
But there’s a silver lining: The video also features passersby who react to the bullying they witness and intervene and/or assist the person being harassed — and they weren’t actors.
Lewinsky told People that the basis for the video was her own experiences.
“I think that there are probably hundreds of thousands, if not millions of horrible things, which have been said about me online and in print,” she told the magazine. “But I can count on one, maybe two hands, how many times people have been rude to my face. That’s my own personal connection. When you are with someone, when you see someone face to face, you are reminded of their humanity.”
One scene that was particularly poignant for Lewinsky (and me, for that matter) featured a woman being fat-shamed in a café, which she said she related to “in a deep, emotional way.”
“I know what it feels like to be judged and picked apart regarding your body. To be body shamed,” she told People.
Monica, honey — me too. (Shoutout to those who have taken to social media to point out that I’m too fat to be a health editor, and their helpful suggestions to eat a salad and/or step foot in a gym!) Having said that, I’ve also experienced plenty of fat-calling and shaming in real life, proving that this is one area where society has deemed it acceptable to say horrible things to people’s faces (in the name of our health, of course).
People are all about mental health awareness lately — and that’s wonderful — but it’s time that we look one step beyond the existence of mental health issues and start taking into consideration some of the behavior that causes them. And yes, that includes bullying, both online and in person. So let’s all try to be a little less horrible and think about the consequences of hateful comments before spewing them mindlessly.