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  • You're looking at a woman who was publicly silent for a decade.

  • Obviously, that's changed,

  • but only recently.

  • It was several months ago

  • that I gave my very first major public talk

  • at the Forbes 30 Under 30 summit:

  • 1,500 brilliant people, all under the age of 30.

  • That meant that in 1998,

  • the oldest among the group were only 14,

  • and the youngest, just four.

  • I joked with them that some might only have heard of me

  • from rap songs.

  • Yes, I'm in rap songs.

  • Almost 40 rap songs. (Laughter)

  • But the night of my speech, a surprising thing happened.

  • At the age of 41, I was hit on by a 27-year-old guy.

  • I know, right?

  • He was charming and I was flattered,

  • and I declined.

  • You know what his unsuccessful pickup line was?

  • He could make me feel 22 again.

  • (Laughter) (Applause)

  • I realized later that night, I'm probably the only person over 40

  • who does not want to be 22 again.

  • (Laughter)

  • (Applause)

  • At the age of 22, I fell in love with my boss,

  • and at the age of 24,

  • I learned the devastating consequences.

  • Can I see a show of hands of anyone here

  • who didn't make a mistake or do something they regretted at 22?

  • Yep. That's what I thought.

  • So like me, at 22, a few of you may have also taken wrong turns

  • and fallen in love with the wrong person,

  • maybe even your boss.

  • Unlike me, though, your boss

  • probably wasn't the president of the United States of America.

  • Of course, life is full of surprises.

  • Not a day goes by that I'm not reminded of my mistake,

  • and I regret that mistake deeply.

  • In 1998, after having been swept up into an improbable romance,

  • I was then swept up into the eye of a political, legal and media maelstrom

  • like we had never seen before.

  • Remember, just a few years earlier,

  • news was consumed from just three places:

  • reading a newspaper or magazine,

  • listening to the radio,

  • or watching television.

  • That was it.

  • But that wasn't my fate.

  • Instead, this scandal was brought to you

  • by the digital revolution.

  • That meant we could access all the information we wanted,

  • when we wanted it, anytime, anywhere,

  • and when the story broke in January 1998,

  • it broke online.

  • It was the first time the traditional news

  • was usurped by the Internet for a major news story,

  • a click that reverberated around the world.

  • What that meant for me personally

  • was that overnight I went from being a completely private figure

  • to a publicly humiliated one worldwide.

  • I was patient zero of losing a personal reputation

  • on a global scale almost instantaneously.

  • This rush to judgment, enabled by technology,

  • led to mobs of virtual stone-throwers.

  • Granted, it was before social media,

  • but people could still comment online,

  • email stories, and, of course, email cruel jokes.

  • News sources plastered photos of me all over

  • to sell newspapers, banner ads online,

  • and to keep people tuned to the TV.

  • Do you recall a particular image of me,

  • say, wearing a beret?

  • Now, I admit I made mistakes,

  • especially wearing that beret.

  • But the attention and judgment that I received, not the story,

  • but that I personally received, was unprecedented.

  • I was branded as a tramp,

  • tart, slut, whore, bimbo,

  • and, of course, that woman.

  • I was seen by many

  • but actually known by few.

  • And I get it: it was easy to forget

  • that that woman was dimensional,

  • had a soul, and was once unbroken.

  • When this happened to me 17 years ago, there was no name for it.

  • Now we call it cyberbullying and online harassment.

  • Today, I want to share some of my experience with you,

  • talk about how that experience has helped shape my cultural observations,

  • and how I hope my past experience can lead to a change that results

  • in less suffering for others.

  • In 1998, I lost my reputation and my dignity.

  • I lost almost everything,

  • and I almost lost my life.

  • Let me paint a picture for you.

  • It is September of 1998.

  • I'm sitting in a windowless office room

  • inside the Office of the Independent Counsel

  • underneath humming fluorescent lights.

  • I'm listening to the sound of my voice,

  • my voice on surreptitiously taped phone calls

  • that a supposed friend had made the year before.

  • I'm here because I've been legally required

  • to personally authenticate all 20 hours of taped conversation.

  • For the past eight months, the mysterious content of these tapes

  • has hung like the Sword of Damocles over my head.

  • I mean, who can remember what they said a year ago?

  • Scared and mortified, I listen,

  • listen as I prattle on about the flotsam and jetsam of the day;

  • listen as I confess my love for the president,

  • and, of course, my heartbreak;

  • listen to my sometimes catty, sometimes churlish, sometimes silly self

  • being cruel, unforgiving, uncouth;

  • listen, deeply, deeply ashamed,

  • to the worst version of myself,

  • a self I don't even recognize.

  • A few days later, the Starr Report is released to Congress,

  • and all of those tapes and transcripts, those stolen words, form a part of it.

  • That people can read the transcripts is horrific enough,

  • but a few weeks later,

  • the audio tapes are aired on TV,

  • and significant portions made available online.

  • The public humiliation was excruciating.

  • Life was almost unbearable.

  • This was not something that happened with regularity back then in 1998,

  • and by this, I mean the stealing of people's private words, actions,

  • conversations or photos,

  • and then making them public --

  • public without consent,

  • public without context,

  • and public without compassion.

  • Fast forward 12 years to 2010,

  • and now social media has been born.

  • The landscape has sadly become much more populated with instances like mine,

  • whether or not someone actually make a mistake,

  • and now it's for both public and private people.

  • The consequences for some have become dire, very dire.

  • I was on the phone with my mom

  • in September of 2010,

  • and we were talking about the news

  • of a young college freshman from Rutgers University

  • named Tyler Clementi.

  • Sweet, sensitive, creative Tyler

  • was secretly webcammed by his roommate

  • while being intimate with another man.

  • When the online world learned of this incident,

  • the ridicule and cyberbullying ignited.

  • A few days later,

  • Tyler jumped from the George Washington Bridge

  • to his death.

  • He was 18.

  • My mom was beside herself about what happened to Tyler and his family,

  • and she was gutted with pain

  • in a way that I just couldn't quite understand,

  • and then eventually I realized

  • she was reliving 1998,

  • reliving a time when she sat by my bed every night,

  • reliving a time when she made me shower with the bathroom door open,

  • and reliving a time when both of my parents feared

  • that I would be humiliated to death,

  • literally.

  • Today, too many parents

  • haven't had the chance to step in and rescue their loved ones.

  • Too many have learned of their child's suffering and humiliation

  • after it was too late.

  • Tyler's tragic, senseless death was a turning point for me.

  • It served to recontextualize my experiences,

  • and I then began to look at the world of humiliation and bullying around me

  • and see something different.

  • In 1998, we had no way of knowing where this brave new technology

  • called the Internet would take us.

  • Since then, it has connected people in unimaginable ways,

  • joining lost siblings,

  • saving lives, launching revolutions,

  • but the darkness, cyberbullying, and slut-shaming that I experienced

  • had mushroomed.

  • Every day online, people, especially young people

  • who are not developmentally equipped to handle this,

  • are so abused and humiliated

  • that they can't imagine living to the next day,

  • and some, tragically, don't,

  • and there's nothing virtual about that.

  • ChildLine, a U.K. nonprofit that's focused on helping young people on various issues,

  • released a staggering statistic late last year:

  • From 2012 to 2013,

  • there was an 87 percent increase

  • in calls and emails related to cyberbullying.

  • A meta-analysis done out of the Netherlands

  • showed that for the first time,

  • cyberbullying was leading to suicidal ideations

  • more significantly than offline bullying.

  • And you know what shocked me, although it shouldn't have,

  • was other research last year that determined humiliation

  • was a more intensely felt emotion

  • than either happiness or even anger.

  • Cruelty to others is nothing new,

  • but online, technologically enhanced shaming is amplified,

  • uncontained, and permanently accessible.

  • The echo of embarrassment used to extend only as far as your family, village,

  • school or community,

  • but now it's the online community too.

  • Millions of people, often anonymously,

  • can stab you with their words, and that's a lot of pain,

  • and there are no perimeters around how many people

  • can publicly observe you

  • and put you in a public stockade.

  • There is a very personal price

  • to public humiliation,

  • and the growth of the Internet has jacked up that price.

  • For nearly two decades now,

  • we have slowly been sowing the seeds of shame and public humiliation

  • in our cultural soil, both on- and offline.

  • Gossip websites, paparazzi, reality programming, politics,

  • news outlets and sometimes hackers all traffic in shame.

  • It's led to desensitization and a permissive environment online

  • which lends itself to trolling, invasion of privacy, and cyberbullying.

  • This shift has created what Professor Nicolaus Mills calls

  • a culture of humiliation.

  • Consider a few prominent examples just from the past six months alone.

  • Snapchat, the service which is used mainly by younger generations

  • and claims that its messages only have the lifespan

  • of a few seconds.

  • You can imagine the range of content that that gets.

  • A third-party app which Snapchatters use to preserve the lifespan

  • of the messages was hacked,

  • and 100,000 personal conversations, photos, and videos were leaked online

  • to now have a lifespan of forever.

  • Jennifer Lawrence and several other actors had their iCloud accounts hacked,

  • and private, intimate, nude photos were plastered across the Internet

  • without their permission.

  • One gossip website had over five million hits

  • for this one story.

  • And what about the Sony Pictures cyberhacking?

  • The documents which received the most attention

  • were private emails that had maximum public embarrassment value.

  • But in this culture of humiliation,

  • there is another kind of price tag attached to public shaming.

  • The price does not measure the cost to the victim,

  • which Tyler and too many others,

  • notably women, minorities,

  • and members of the LGBTQ community have paid,

  • but the price measures the profit of those who prey on them.

  • This invasion of others is a raw material,

  • efficiently and ruthlessly mined, packaged and sold at a profit.

  • A marketplace has emerged where public humiliation is a commodity

  • and shame is an industry.

  • How is the money made?

  • Clicks.

  • The more shame, the more clicks.

  • The more clicks, the more advertising dollars.

  • We're in a dangerous cycle.

  • The more we click on this kind of gossip,

  • the more numb we get to the human lives behind it,

  • and the more numb we get, the more we click.

  • All the while, someone is making money

  • off of the back of someone else's suffering.

  • With every click, we make a choice.

  • The more we saturate our culture with public shaming,