Click with compassion

Photo courtesy of James Fox (Flickr)
Photo courtesy of James Fox (Flickr)
Photo courtesy of James Fox (Flickr)

Monica Lewinsky returned to the public stage to speak about her very public scandal at the TED Conference Truth and Dare on March 19.

“At 22, I fell in love with my boss. At [. . .] 24, I learned the devastating consequences.” It’s no secret that Lewinsky was publicly and globally humiliated by Internet users due to her sexual relationship with then-president Bill Clinton. “I was branded as a tramp, tart, slut, whore, bimbo, and, of course, ‘that woman,’” she recalled from the comments posted online.

Lewinsky’s ‘slut-shaming’ experience was one of the first of many experiences women have had online since 1998. But this type of web-shaming is only one of the forms of a bigger, more prevalent issue: cyberbullying. This issue is responsible for similar recent events, including the leaked nude photos of female celebrities such as Jennifer Lawrence and Kaley Cuoco.

Cyberbullying is a problem that needs to be addressed due to the exponential damage it has caused, not only to women, but to all genders. However, we can counteract this issue through simple online compassion.

One mustn’t forget the other notable and devastating occurrences of women’s privacies being infringed upon online, due to desensitized online hatred. Look no further than British Columbian Amanda Todd’s suicide, provoked by the online abuse she received from posting a topless photo — a tragedy that could have been prevented if more online users had actively recognized the sensitive situation, and stood up against this harassment.

Unfortunately, cyberbullying has become incredibly prevalent in our society. According to a study by Internet security firm MacAfee, at least one in three teenagers are now bullied online in America. Moreover, online anonymity allows for hatred that often targets women, minorities, and LGBTQ individuals. Because of this, Lewinsky is now calling for a revolution, and I stand behind her.

The reality is that changes must be made through web users.

Comment sections, forum posts, and personal profiles have become the public battleground for what seems like a neverending spread of hate. With social media platforms failing to offer protection, cyberbullying also stole away lives like that of Nova Scotian Rehtaeh Parsons. While our government needs to create laws that make this a crime, the reality is that changes must be made directly through web users.

We have the power to affect real change on the web, and to fight the disassociation between the real person and the virtual profile that cyberbullying causes. The Internet has become a bystander society that continues to permit this behaviour — since the consequences that occur from such behaviour in the real world often do not apply, this online culture has projected a deafening silence that blocks the pleas of real person’s pleas behind the screen.

Though, it is easy for us to become upstanders within our bystander society: we just have to counteract the negativity by making the personal choice to empathize with our friendly comments, rather than remain desensitized.

“Empathy from one person can make a difference,” Lewinsky advised.  “Compassionate comments help abate the negativity.”

With so many suicides and so much harm caused by cyberbullying, the least you can do is to click with compassion.