— -- In the age of the Internet, bullies can do more damage faster than ever before, and as more cyberbullying victims share their stories of harassment, there is one woman who considers herself an advocate for the cause: Monica Lewinsky.
Lewinsky’s infamous affair 17 years ago with former president Bill Clinton not only played out in the media, it was one of the first scandals to play out online. Now, Lewinsky is determined not to tiptoe around her past.
“I was patient zero of losing a personal reputation on a global scale almost instantaneously,” Lewinsky, 41, said in a TED Talk speech last week.
In the past year, Lewinsky has joined a star-studded list of celebrities championing change to end public online shaming, from singer Demi Lovato to the Jenner sisters, who are the faces of the “Delete Digital Drama” campaign. The issue of cyberbullying even came up on Monday night’s episode of ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars,” when Orlando model Charlotte McKinney shared a few of the nasty tweets she has received while being on the show.
Ally Del Monte, 16, says she has been a victim of cyberbullying for years, and the ridicule started on the playground when she was 8.
“I was really overweight,” she said. “My friends thought it was funny and would exclude me from the playground. They would make fun of me.”
But as she got older, Ally said, the bullying quickly moved online.
“I would get messages every week that no one cares about me, that I’m not worth anything,” she said. “One night was really bad. I had 172 messages on there telling me to kill myself. … And I said ‘OK.’ I tried to take a bunch of pills that night and I almost died because of it.”
Her mother, Wendy, decided the only solution was to separate Ally physically from her tormentors, so she pulled Ally out of school and now home-schools her.
“Bullying is so bad and the school cannot keep up with it,” Wendy said.
But Ally said the cyberbullying problem still continues, even in the safety of her own home.
“I still get messages on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook,” she said. “I learned how to mentally prepare myself for those kinds of things. I have to be able to take some of that criticism. There are nasty people out there. Don’t encourage them.”
It’s a problem so many kids face. Nearly half of U.S. teens say they have been victims of cyberbullying, according to the National Crime Prevention Council.
“It’s very public, it’s very humiliating and it’s 24/7,” New York-based psychotherapist Robi Ludwig said. “It’s not like you can go home, close the door and pretend it’s not happening because it follows these kids everywhere and that’s what makes it so damaging so for a young kid that can’t really see that difficult times will pass.”
Kelsey Kangos knows this all too well herself. Now 26, she said she was living Ally’s story when she was in the seventh-grade.
“This was the time of AOL Instant Messenger, in like 1999, 2000,” Kelsey said. “They would make these anonymous screen names … the second I blocked one, another one would pop up and it was sort of this constant bombardment. There was no way to know who it was.”
Kelsey said it wasn’t just on Instant Messenger. Her tormentors created a website about her.
“It had my picture, my school picture of the yearbook, kind of copied on top of a gorilla body,” she said. “They would fake journal entries that I had written, so like, ‘Oh, today I thought about shaving my arms’ or ‘Today I thought about how many bananas I could eat at one time,’ or ‘Today I thought about bringing a gun to school, because nobody likes me.’”
She said she brought the website to her mom and after her stepfather found out about it, she said, he took action.
“He was like, ‘Who do you think is behind this?’ He made that number of copies and drove to each of the parents’ houses,” Kelsey said.
And even though she says the site was taken down, things became worse.
“It actually didn’t stop until I left that school, until I graduated eighth-grade,” she said. “Once high school started, it was like a totally different scenario. It just like stopped all together.”
Thirty-four states have laws that specifically target cyberbullying.
In the meantime, Kelsey has some advice for Ally:
“There is so much ahead of you that at 15 your social life is everything and I get that,” she said. “So while it feels like this is it, this is my whole life, it’s not. Oh, my gosh, it’s not. You have your whole life ahead of you.”