— Forbes (@Forbes) October 20, 2014
She started yesterday by joining Twitter and quickly gaining 61,000-plus followers (as of this afternoon at about 4pm ET). She has only tweeted three times.
Then she spoke at the Forbes Under 30 Summit to announce that she’s going to be actively involved in a “cultural revolution” against cyberbullying.
“I was Patient Zero,” she said to a crowd of about a thousand millennials.”The first person to have their reputation completely destroyed worldwide via the Internet.”
— Monica Lewinsky (@MonicaLewinsky) October 20, 2014
In her case, there was no social media at the time of the Clinton scandal, but there was plenty of gossip news. And she talks about how she was repeatedly humiliated online, thinking to herself, “I want to die.”
Perhaps the most jarring thing is how much time it has taken for Lewinsky to launch some sort of a comeback. She’s now 41 years old; she was 22 when she was first thrust into the spotlight. She tried designing handbags and hosting a dating reality show. But it was in 2010, with the suicide of Rutgers student Tyler Clementi that she decided to make a comeback with this cause, meeting with Clementi’s parents and committing herself to finding a “purpose to my past.” (Here’s a link to The Tyler Clementi Foundation where you can learn more and donate.)
These days, we have an almost daily PR fail making the news. And, it seems, after a few days of hoopla, the offending party disappears for a little bit and reappears shortly after — within weeks, maybe a couple of months — with an apology, an explanation and a new project/product/campaign to move forward.
Lewinsky was out of sight for more than a decade, a virtual eternity. That might be attributed to the “excruciatingly slow dial-up” pace at which her name was shredded to pieces. (Full text of her Forbes speech available here.)
“I would go online, read in a paper or see on TV people referring to me as: tramp, slut, whore, tart, bimbo, floozy, even spy,” she said. “The New York Post’s Page Six took to calling me, almost daily, the Portly Pepperpot. I was shattered.”
Still, upon reappearing, the interest is there. It speaks to just how huge this story was and how much she was derided when this story broke. The number of think pieces, blog posts, news stories and infographics that would be written about this situation if it happened now… shudder to think.
At the same time, out of context, her relevance is a big question. After all, what really is the significance of Lewinsky’s reemergence 16 years after the fact? For some, there isn’t much.
But that might be part of rebuilding a demolished reputation, something Lewinsky knows more about than perhaps most brands and PRs:
A reputation isn’t like a fashion accessory or a status symbol: an Apple watch, a Tesla or even an engagement ring from Tiffany’s (though I wouldn’t mind one of those).
It’s part of who you are. It’s part of who you are, socially and professionally. It’s part of how you think about yourselves. It’s part of your personal and your public identity. Lose it, as you so easily can, and you lose an integral part of yourself.
You have to start from scratch in order to reassert what you are and why all the negative associations don’t tell the whole story.