Monica Lewinsky: 'Online we have a compassion deficit and an empathy crisis'

Monica Lewinsky.
Monica Lewinsky.

Social activist discussed the cyber-bulling she endured after her affair with former president Bill Clinton, calling on the creative industries to help encourage greater empathy online

"Public shaming as a blood sport must stop" says Monica Lewinsky, who is leading the charge for more empathy to be spread in order to combat online bullying and "slut shaming."

Speaking frankly about the journey of her scandal with former president Bill Clinton, Monica Lewinsky called on the creative industries to use their influence to encourage greater empathy online.

Lewinsky believes she was the first real victim of very public cyber shaming, calling herself "Patient Zero," but says more needs to be done as technology and the media has turned it into a bloodsport and is profiting from other people's misery. "Public shaming as a bloodsport must stop. We need an intervention on the internet and in culture," she says.

She lay weighty blame on the media and gossip outlets that profit from publishing shaming articles, citing the leak of naked images of actress Jennifer Lawrence after her iCloud account was hacked.

The price of shaming
Lewinsky asked the audience to picture an image of the hackers in a room, breaking into the private images and in the next, the journalists that re-published and documented the event. She said the journalists were worse than the hackers because they did what they did to make a point, not to make a profit.

"We have created a culture of humiliation. There is another price tag to public shaming. The price is not measured in the cost to the victim but rather the price measured by the profit of those that prey on them. The violation of others is ruthlessly mined and packaged and sold as a profit. Whether it is for likes, clicks or perverse pleasure, shame is a commodity and public humiliation is an industry. How is money made? Clicks," she argues.

Her answer to this issue is empathy. She believes that spreading empathy, flagging bullies online and posting positive comments is the only way to combat the problem.

"The shift begins with something simple; a long held value of compassion and empathy. Online we have a compassion deficit and an empathy crisis. Shame cannot survive empathy," she says.

This article first appeared on

Cannes Lions 2015 Coverage

Start Your Free 30-Day Free Trial

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to, plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events.

Become a subscriber


Don’t miss your daily fix of breaking news, latest work, advice and commentary.

register free