What Happens When Online Trolls Are Abusive in Real Life

Powerful anti-bullying PSA from Monica Lewinsky and BBDO

A new PSA seeks to illustrate the seriousness of cyberbullying by taking actual instances of online vitriol and dramatizing them in real public places.

In a cafe, man approaches two others sitting together at a table and encourages them to kill themselves for being gay. Two young girls pick on a third, calling her the weirdest kid in school and telling her everyone hates her. In a park, one woman yells at another that all Muslims are terrorists.

Titled “In Real Life,” the :60 spot was spearheaded by Monica Lewinsky, and created by BBDO, to mark National Bullying Prevention Month in the U.S. Based on posts culled from social media, the ad is a potent demonstration of the awful things people are willing to say about each other—at least when hidden behind a computer—and the general trash heap that is online commentary, if not humanity.

But there are bright spots.

In each case, a passerby intervenes, coming to the defense of the bullied. And while the on-screen copy at the end reveals that the bullies and their victims were actors, the heroes—and more frustratingly, the other bystanders—were not. In other words, to whatever degree it is staged, it’s a sort of how-to video on what to do when you witness someone else being viciously harassed. Don’t be one of the people who ignores it.

To that end, the campaign also includes a series of original #BeStrong emojis, stickers and GIFs—created with tech-messaging company Snaps and designer Kirsty Munn—that includes multicolored hands grasping each other inside hearts. They can be downloaded as a free keyboard for Apple and Android mobile devices, in the hopes that young people will use them to show support for one another in the face of bullying.

In that respect, it also joins other anti-bullying ads in recent years that have sought to provide constructive options for young victims of bullying and the people around them—either by suggesting they turn back to social media for compassion and encouragement from more sympathetic, less idiotic sources, or address the problem through more traditional channels like parents and teachers.

“The internet is an incredible tool that has allowed for unprecedented connection and the instant sharing of ideas. But in occupying a disembodied, digital space, we also risk losing our humanity and forgetting that other people are beyond the screen,” says Lewinsky, who became infamous in the 1990s as part of the high-profile scandal around her affair with President Bill Clinton, and who reemerged in 2014 as an anti-bullying activist—drawing on her experience to advocate for others.

“This campaign is a wakeup call to remind people that our instincts for empathy and caring are still strong,” she adds. “We just need to consciously extend that thinking online.”

Client: Monica Lewinsky / Anti-Bullying
Campaign: In Real Life

Agency: BBDO New York
David Lubars, Chief Creative Officer, Global
Greg Hahn, Chief Creative Officer, BBDO New York
Danilo Boer, Executive Creative Officer
Marcos Kothlar, Executive Creative Officer
Bianca Guimaraes, Associate Creative Director, Art Director
Roberto Danino, Associate Creative Director, Copywriter
David Rolfe, Head of Integrated Production
Angela Narloch, Executive Producer
Rani Zarina Vaz, Head of Music Production
Steven Panariello, Account Director
Lindsey Cash, Account Director
Carrie White, Account Director
Nora Stanton, Account Executive
Christina Stoddard, Planning Director
Dexter Blumenthal, Junior Brand Planner
Yin Chung, Engagement Planning Director
James Mullally, Communications Planner
Lucy Bennett, Influencer Manager
Bernadette Naughten, Director of Business Affairs

Production Company: BBDO Studios
Win Bates, Director
Michael Gentile, BBDO Studios Lead
AJ Rowe, BBDO Studios Manager
Persis Koch, EP

Edit: Work Editorial
Adam Witten, Editor
Jamie Perritt, Producer

Color & Finish: The Mill
Fergus McCall, Colorist
Corey Brown, Colorist
Kyle Zemborain, 2D Assist
Luis Martin, Producer

Mix: Heard City
Dan Flosdorf, Audio Mixer
Gloria Pitagorsky, EP

Music: Human
Andy Bloch, Composer and Creative Lead
James Dean Wells, EP

PR/Communications Firm: Dini von Mueffling Communications
Dini von Mueffling – Principal
Daniel Lempert – Account Executive

@GabrielBeltrone gabriel.beltrone@gmail.com Gabriel Beltrone is a frequent contributor to Adweek.