By Marie-Renee Goulet

 (****) Streaming on Crave

“How much have you paid for your Facebook account?” If you use a service, and it is free, you are the product. 

Monica Lewinsky was “patient zero” for online harassment. Imagine being the first-ever person that the entire world could freely harass, call names and be completely defenseless about it all. Imagine having your whole life exposed and judged. Imagine having the most prominent political scandal named after you. Seeing your future uncertain, any career pursuits seemingly lost and having sullied your family name. All because someone decided to make a private mistake public for their gain.

Then, you find your strength, and you become an entrepreneur. But every few years, your name is brought out, repeatedly, every time the Clintons do anything high profile, which is often. I’ll quickly mention here that the age difference and power differential between the President of the United States and an intern should have sufficed to name it the “Clinton Scandal,” and we, humans, should have protected this young woman instead of piling on. 

Lewinsky did not only survive all of this but, since 2014, has been actively fighting online bullying. “Having survived myself, what I want to do now is help other victims of the shame game survive, too.”

She has now produced a documentary film that examines social behaviour by following individuals across the U.S. who have been publicly shamed and cyber-harassed showing the long-term impacts on their lives. We explore the bullies, the bystanders, the media, psychologists, politicians, and experts on the matter. I found getting the full context around some people who had their lives destroyed by worldwide shaming jarring. Who are we to decide that someone should be punished for their rest of their life for a one-time mistake or, worse, a misunderstanding or the colour of their skin?

This well-researched documentary depicts our human inclination, which every social media platform exploits for massive profits. In the beginning, we used social media for its best use: from connecting with loved ones living far away or righting a wrong by calling out the unjust action of a large corporation. After this initial hit of dopamine, we did what we humans do, fuck it all up by letting every one of the worse human traits take over. Little keyboard warriors could feel strong and anonymously say whatever they wanted without a thought about the ramifications. Add to that mix fake accounts and bots created to magnify fake outrage, and you get a terrible echo chamber. Algorithms are designed to feed you what attracted your attention in the first place. Unfortunately, we pay attention to the negative, the shocking, or the inflammatory. “I say why I’m angry. I’m contributing more content; you don’t have to pay me for that. So I’m a useful idiot in a scam. To create more attention for everyone else. You run that algorithm for three to ten years, and you let society run through that washing machine. That dystopia is exactly the world that we live in now. We’re more profitable if we’re addicted, outraged, irritable, disinformed, and polarized than if we’re a human being.”

An alarming consequence is underlined in the film: years of overuse of public shaming as a weapon is that some transgressors are mutating to become impervious to shame. Remind you of someone?

Monica asks two questions in voice-over in the first few minutes: “How did we get here” and “Where the fuck are we going?”

Good question. Legislation seems to be the answer, but U.S. laws are antiquated, and Section 230 prevents platforms from being sued for what user’s post. Facebook and other tech companies have more money than any other corporation in the history of the world and have a revolving door from “Tech to Government” to help manage their relationships in Washington. Will they ever let laws allowing victims to sue them pass?

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