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‘Bullying Crisis Has Become A Global Epidemic’⁠— Monica Lewinsky Talks Bullying In Her New Anti-Bullying PSA

There may be no better person placed in our culture to talk about online bullying and harassment than Monica Lewinsky. Her story has been co-opted and manipulated for personal and political gain purposes for over two decades now. It’s taken long enough for the culture to catch up. She’s been speaking up about this for years and finally, she’s in control of her own narrative. In her latest campaign, the PSA “Epidemic”, Monica Lewinsky wants to raise awareness about the silent and lethal epidemic that is online bullying. 

Online bullying is a silent and lethal form of harassment and Monica Lewinsky wants to raise awareness around this issue so we don’t miss the signs.

credit Youtube The Epidemic

In her latest campaign, the third of a series of ads designed to raise awareness about a silent and lethal epidemic, Monica Lewinsky wants to shine a light on how this silent and invisible this form of bullying can be, and how a psychologically challenging situation can quickly escalate and become physical. In “Epidemic”, we’re introduced to a teenage girl whose health seems to be deteriorating for no apparent reason over the course of the film.  First she stays home from school, she can’t eat, she can’t sleep. In a panic, she reaches out for a bottle of pills. The viewer sees her go from a normal teen to an unconscious girl in an E.R. It’s obvious that she’s been sick all along, but what’s the disease?

The words “The story is not what it seems” appear across the screen. “Go to the-epidemic.com/realstory to get the message.”

Once you follow the link, a new screen message asks viewers to enter their phone number. When the video starts over, the person watching it is receiving the same texts messages that Hailey, the protagonist of the film, is getting. The cruel messages are a deluge of threats, harassment and abuse. And by receiving the texts, viewers don’t just watch it all unfold, they experience it. “It’s like the difference between seeing something in 3D and seeing something in VR,” Lewinsky told Glamour of the campaign’s interactive elements. It makes the abuse that people face on the internet, through their phones, and IRL feel real, immediate, and dangerous. 

Although cyber-bullying happens online, the feeling can be very real, and it can even lead to sickness.

credit Youtube The Epidemic

The feeling of being bullied isn’t just one of fear and shame. Bullying can affect your physical and mental health in potentially dangerous ways. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), being bullied can increase your risk of sleep difficulties, anxiety, depression, headaches, stomachaches, and more. Since bullying can lead to illness, it’s a sort of sickness in itself. Andd that’s exactly what Lewinsky is trying to convey in the PSA in partnership with advertising agency BBDO New York, and Dini von Mueffling Communications.

“We compare [bullying] to an illness for several reasons,” Lewinsky, an anti-bullying advocate, speaker, and former bullying victim, told Teen Vogue. “Just last year, a Pew Research Center survey found that 59% of U.S. teens have been bullied or harassed online. But the problem is, it can be hard to see the signs when somebody is going through something like this. With cyberbullying, even though it may take place online, it has offline consequences — and these consequences range from bad to grave.”

The film was a deeply personal project for Lewinsky who was bullied on a national scale in 1998.

credit Instagram @Notablelife Lewinsky was famously bullied on a national scale after her relationship with former president Bill Clinton went public when she was 24 years old and an intern at the White House. She has personal experience with how severe bullying can be and it’s something she’s spoken out about consistently. It’s that very issue which made this project a challenge she wanted to tackle. “It was hard for me to do this,” she admits. Drawing from her own experiences, Lewinsky, wanted to capture what she calls “that cascading feeling, that overwhelming feeling, the tsunami of texts that come in and the vitriol.” Not just in the video, but in the messages that participants receive. With “The Epidemic”, Lewinsky wants to show victims of bullying that they’re not alone and that they don’t need to remain silent about what they’re going through. 

While bruises and cuts are visible to parents, teachers, and friends, emotional wounds can be harder to spot.

Credit Twitter @MonicaLewnsky

“This is everybody’s worst nightmare—to miss the signs,” Lewinsky said on The Today Show. “And I think one of the best things that we can be doing is have these kinds of conversations, and what we hope to be a positive result from this PSA is that it brings awareness to the kinds of conversations parents should be having with their kids.” Lewinsky who is now 46 years old, remembers that when she was growing up, her parents would tell her, “Be home by sundown.” They wanted her to to be safe. But now, as she notes, “kids can be safe in their physical home, but they’re not emotionally safe because of what may be happening online.” 

The PSA supports a several organizations, including Amanda Todd Legacy, The Childhood Resilience Foundation, Crisis Text Line, Defeat The Label, The Diana Award, Ditch The Label, Organization for Social Media Safety, Sandy Hook Promise, Sit With Us, Think Before You Type and The Tyler Clementi Foundation. If you or someone you know is being bullied, tell someone right away or call the bullying hotline to speak with a professional. If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text Crisis Text Line at 741-741.

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