There is something romantic about the old days of personal correspondence: the time of letters, postcards and the era before smartphones. I recently was reminded just how much things have moved on from that period thanks to a surprising return to the media spotlight by a figure who filled news headlines at the end of the last millennium – just as everything was about to turn “instant”.
I’m talking about Monica Lewinsky, the face of the biggest political scandal of the 1990s, who recently gave a speech to a youthful audience at a summit celebrating the best of young talent in the media. She nailed it. What we saw on stage was a lady who has come to terms with her past and someone who is determined to use her experiences to help others. The people that she wants to help are the young victims of cyber-bullying and internet shaming. Lewinsky considers herself to have been the first person to have had her reputation completely destroyed globally via the internet.
She has a good point. Decades ago you could write something in a newspaper and it would take days for the story to cross borders – if it did at all. Today’s world is a far more connected and unforgiving place. Information spreads in a split second and it is never forgotten. Just Google the right words and memories of a mistake that you might have made perhaps 10, 15 or even 20 years ago can come flooding back.
The web has also provided a platform for irresponsible and hostile rhetoric to be delivered instantly and with anonymity. But I think that many individuals contributing to right-wing anti-immigrant discussion forums, for example, or poorly monitored comment sections on news websites, would not be happy put their real names (let alone their faces) to a lot of the venom that they seem willing to write online.
Lewinsky says that in today’s world we need a different mindset when interacting with the web. She is asking for a new, kinder culture but I’m afraid I don’t think that humankind is going to get a lot nicer any time soon – we need more quality and better moderation in order to achieve that.
So while I’m waiting for the internet to fix itself I’ll stick to quality content – magazines, newspapers and well edited websites – that are still being produced with care.
Markus Hippi is a producer for Monocle 24.