Fireside Chat: Monica Lewinsky and Greg Hahn of Mischief
Monica Lewinsky, producer, activist, Vanity Fair contributing editor, and Greg Hahn, co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of Mischief.
Moderated by: Jessica Lauretti, Managing Director of the Anthem Awards
Greg and Monica discussed their recent project “The Epidemic”which focuses on the grave consequences of cyberbullyingon marginalized communities, and how changing perspectives can help individuals be more conscious of their word choice on and off the internet.
As part of the Inaugural Anthem Awards Conference on February 28, 2022, collaborating team Monica Lewinsky and Greg Hahn spoke of their award winning project, an effective and memorable ad that allows us to witness bullying in real time.
- Monica Lewinsky gives insight on personal experiences and inspiration for The Epidemic
- Greg Hahn speaks of the creative process of the joint project
Watch the full discussion:
Read the full transcript below:
Jessica Lauretti 0:15
Hi, everyone, and welcome to our session. My name is Jessica Lauretti and I’m the Managing Director of the Anthem Awards. It’s my absolute pleasure today to sit down in Fireside Chat with Monica Lewinsky producer, activist and Vanity Fair contributing editor, along with Greg Hahn, co-founder and chief creative officer of Mischief. Thank you both so much for being with us today.
Greg Hahn 0:45
Great to be here, thank you for having us.
Monica Lewinsky 0:45
Thanks for having us!
Jessica Lauretti 0:47
Thank you. I first wanted to just say, you know, Congratulations, you won two Anthem Awards for your work on the epidemic campaign to stop cyber bullying in the responsibility cause. So congratulations on being our Inaugural Winner. We’re going to be talking about that work here today.
Monica Lewinsky 1:07
Jessica Lauretti 1:09
So Monica, I wanted to start by talking a little bit about your journey to becoming an activist in this space. I mean, everyone is obviously so familiar with your story. You’ve taken something deeply personal, something, you know, deeply traumatic experience from your life and turn that energy into becoming an outspoken advocate on cyber bullying. Can you talk a little bit about why you’re so passionate about standing up on this issue and, if you had a moment where you knew you really had to act on what you call this culture of humiliation?
Monica Lewinsky 1:43
I think, you know, many of us have had various kinds of traumatic experiences in our lives. I think anytime we can take those experiences, and mine is what you said from 20 years ago of becoming a poster child for public shaming, and bullying in a way that is both similar and different to what we have today. But, I think anytime we can take those experiences, and find a way to extrapolate from them, what we went through and what we learned to try to help other people, it’s great. Also, being on the sort of other side of that loop is having gone through something I think helps you bring a kind of empathy, and an understanding and a level of concern to a problem that’s different from what we feel. You know? I mean, I think you think about when you look at the refugee crisis, right, someone who’s been a refugee is going to have a different level of empathy than someone who hasn’t doesn’t mean you won’t still have empathy, if you haven’t. But for me, it was, I think, from this kind of scandal. Because, I was trying to rebuild my life trying to find a way forward. There was an incident in 2010 with a young college freshman Tyler Clementi, who people might remember was secretly webcamed while being intimate with another man. This unfolded online and there was shame and humiliation, and he very sadly took his own life. It was experiencing, I think, the large coverage of that story. We now had social media and watched my mom’s reaction, like this trifecta of things, which opened my eyes to this, this idea that, okay, the landscape had really shifted from 1998, to where, to where we were then. We continue to see that landscape being unfortunately too fertile with this issue. So, that’s, that’s really sort of, you know, that was the kind of the beginning sprouting of my, of my social activism and then from writing and Ted Talk and and then getting to work, you know, with creatives on some anti bullying campaigns. Just trying to bring awareness, trying to help make a difference. You know, hoping a parent or a child would see something or a teacher, a bystander, anybody, just to try to shift just this culture of humiliation, you know, that we’ve grown, we’ve done this. Plenty of people blame large scale, but we do this, you know, though, right?
Jessica Lauretti 4:34
Yeah, certainly. I mean, technology obviously has a role to play but, also is a mirror of our society. So we’re a big part of that as well. Yeah. Let’s talk a little bit about some of the statistics around cyber bullying. They’re really pretty staggering. 59% of teenagers report being a victim of cyber bullying and the CDC estimates that it’s the root cause of 20 percent of teen suicides. Additionally, only 1 in 10 instances of cyber bullying is reported. So this often goes unnoticed, until it’s too late. Talk about why you call this an epidemic.
Monica Lewinsky 5:16
You know, I think that really pandemic is actually even an accurate word. I mean, we call it the campaign epidemic for the red herring, really? I don’t know if people are people who are watching this now, have they been able to see any part of the campaign video?
Jessica Lauretti 5:40
Yeah, yeah, there’s links to the campaign on our website. Also, it’s being shared in the chat now. So if folks haven’t seen it they’ll have the chance now.
Monica Lewinsky 5:47
I just didn’t know. I think the statistics are staggering. Something that’s important, whenever we’re talking about suicide is to always remind everybody that suicide is preventable. So I think that’s kind of an important thing. At the time that we made this in 2019, you know, one of the statistics too, was that 70% of students had seen bullying and cyberbullying in their schools. So you can understand with the campaign that it was both not only the signs that people could see in schools but also a sign for parents to see what can be happening to their children. to the young people.
Jessica Lauretti 6:36
Greg, tell us a little bit about the development of the campaign. Can you share, you know, kind of how you came up with the concept for the interactive film and sort of how it worked with the adjoining text message campaign?
Greg Hahn 6:49
Sure, sure, yeah, it was a lot of people, the team back at BBDO, at the time in 2019. I mean, first and foremost, we wanted to create understanding, right? The best way to create understanding is to sort of break this glass wall that is between someone on the receiving end and just the fading end of a text message. Because, it’s so dehumanizing, it’s so you know, removed from the actual feelings when you text something. So we really wanted to, you know, bring to life that feeling of what happens when you are on the receiving end and, to be careful of what that effect can be when you’re when you’re sending somebody a text message. So there’s that level of it. Then there’s also just being able to recognize when it’s happening to somebody, you know. So there’s all these elements to play in place. We thought that doing like an interactive film was like a really effective way of getting people to understand both what it feels like to get one and what it feels like to send one, and then viewing the film, without the text messages, and then viewing it, the next time with the text messages was a good illustration of the effects that these messages can have on people. It’s not always noticeable until you know what to look for. So that sort of the technology that we use, in three ways that couldn’t have been done without it, which was to create this empathy and this understanding and this recognition.
Jessica Lauretti 8:15
Yeah, it’s really interesting, when you’re watching it for the first time without the text messaging, you’re like, not really sure what’s happening. You know, at first you think maybe she has COVID. Maybe then at some point, you’re like, oh, maybe she has an eating disorder, or, you know, maybe she’s struggling with depression or some other issues. Then it sort of revealed afterwards through the text messaging campaign, what’s really going on. I thought it was a very effective use of that technology and the creative together, I think it worked really well to tell that story.
Greg Hahn 8:47
Yeah, I always strive for ideas that, like if you’re going to use technology, use it in a way that the story or the idea couldn’t have been expressed without it. So that’s really built into the process. Along with Monica and all these insights, you came to us, it’s like this felt like the best way to, you know, get someone to not passively engage with this story.
Jessica Lauretti 9:10
Yeah, speaking of that, can you talk a little bit about what is some of the research and background you needed to do before putting this project together?
Greg Hahn 9:20
From a technology standpoint? or from…
Jessica Lauretti 9:23
Or just on the issue areas.
Greg Hahn 9:25
Monica came to us like now let her speak to us about like, the statistics that were just growing, as you mentioned. Financially every day online is, yeah, it’s a breeding ground for bullying.
Monica Lewinsky 9:40
I think we hit too that this was our third campaign that we had all done together. So Greg was saying, it was a big team of people. Mischief and BBDO. So just really, I think everybody has a passion to try to do something different and in terms of our, I think the creative process, it was about, as Greg was saying, really trying to get people to understand. If you haven’t gone through this, what does it feel like? Right? Because, empathy is going to engender the most compassion and, compassion is, I think, one of the the engines for trying to change the issues. But we, in terms of the research too, I think one of the things that was really interesting was coming to understand there was a point, like just on this intersection, which might be interesting for people to think about is the intersection of creativity, social issues, and these campaigns. We needed re-edit but in our creative process, we needed to make sure the ending became very clear that she had survived. Because, statistically, you know, we had been told from Crisis Text Line and from the research we had done, about how important it is to show sort of an unsuccessful suicide. Right? So an unsuccessful attempt that that’s so I think that’s a, you know, that was a really interesting and eye opening space for me, we hadn’t had that with our other campaigns. So, I think trying to look at, you know, really, what are best practices when you’re talking about mental health issues too? Yeah, a small funny sidebar of this that I’m now calling her Emma, but it’s but Emma Malouff, who’s the actress who was in the PSA. She ended up playing Sarah Paulson’s daughter as Linda Tripp. So she was Linda Tripp’s daughter in Impeachment. Yeah, yeah, she’s an incredible, incredible actor. Yeah.
Greg Hahn 12:01
That’s great! One thing, you know, in developing this, you know, Monica, reminds me of something. It’s like, how, you know, we were all very involved with the process behind the scenes and how technology works. But still, the first time we watched it with the text messages coming through at the same time, it was still really jarring to receive those on your phone. So, you know, there’s a great deal of responsibility, we had to make sure that when people did get these messages, that they understood that this was part of the campaign, this was not some stranger texting them. So there were some disclaimers at the bottom of each text, you know, far down so it didn’t, you know, interrupt with the, with the with the chart.
Monica Lewinsky 12:40
Shockingly, I mean, I think shockingly, too, as we’ve done really with all the campaigns, but this one in particular, like, these text messages were real things that had been said to people. I mean, we having EMT onset, who shared a horrific story about someone she knew who kids in the class, like she was like, just go kill yourself, you know, over text message. So some of these things they came from, from real life instances. And yet at the same time, you know, that was just sort of a, I think, a heavy moment for all of us. Right, right, or just realizing, Oh, the things that are actually being said, are, are too, or too hard and too heavy. To people, like there’s just a sort of a real miss there, you know, a misfire in how it all works. So I’m not sure if that just made sense. But hopefully, you know
Greg Hahn 13:40
It’s really worth going back to how it was two years ago when we did this, but it’s so powerful. The fact that the messages that are happening in real life were too, too powerful, too heavy to put into this film. You can only imagine what goes on, you know? Yeah,
Monica Lewinsky 13:57
I think too, one of the other things that sorry, Jessica, we could go back to your questions. I don’t mean to. I think one of the things that also struck me that kind of as we were talking before about both there being sort of students and young people who are going through this. Watching and seeing themselves in this, they’re the parents watching this, or teachers coming to understand what young people are going through. The third thing that we saw, which is a really important message around this too, is that we saw the actor in the PSA, not reaching out for help and suffering in silence. I think that that is you know, I know from my own experiences and I’m sure many people watching this too, you guys included who’ve gone through difficult times of varying levels that it’s when you keep everything inside that it’s like the shame blows up. You know, the idea that you’re the only one who’s gone through this then also feeds the shame. The fear, the sadness. There is something popping that balloon of silence around this kind of stuff. That is always the most important messaging with this.
Jessica Lauretti 15:11
Yeah, and it’s so isolating too when you’re in that space and not sharing that with anyone. Don’t necessarily if you don’t feel like you have anyone you can talk to or go to with that.
Greg Hahn 15:22
Yeah, and Monica has been really great about this messaging at the end of where to go next. So, you’re not just leaving people with like, here’s the problem. Here’s signs to look for. There are some definite steps that people can take if they’re experiencing this. This has always been part of all the campaigns that we’ve done with. Yeah.
Jessica Lauretti 15:42
You released this PSA during National Bullying Prevention Month and with several nonprofit partners, Sandy Hook Promise, Sit With Us, Think Before You Type, The Tyler Clementi foundation, and many others. Can you talk a little bit about the work of these organizations, and why it’s so important to partner with these kinds of nonprofit organizations with this expertise in a project like this?
Monica Lewinsky 16:10
Yeah, I think, you know, one of the things that can be really challenging in the nonprofit sector is that you can have a number of different organizations all working towards the same issue. While people are kind and wonderful and doing good services, there’s also this underlying point where people are fighting for the same dollars, sadly. and so we think we don’t get to see often enough, we don’t get to bring people together and to really learn from all of the different ways that their organization might be dealing with the same issue. So, I think that that’s always been a great resource for us. Whether it’s the Childhood Resilience Foundation, the Diana Ward, the Tyler Clementi Foundation. All of these organizations are dealing with this issue in slightly different ways. So, whether it’s from addressing bystanders or bringing, you know, anti bullying ambassadors into a school, like training kids to be a peer related anti bullying ambassador, I mean, all of these things. Natalie, I’m blanking on her last name, who created Sit With Us? You know, it’s an app, so that nobody has to sit alone at school. You know, I mean, I’ve had that happen. It’s awful, you know, but I’ve had it happen as an adult. So, you know, but I think that with all those organizations, not only the input they gave us, but also, there’s, I think it’s one of the benefits of strong creativity, working with incredible creative people. I’m lucky to have a platform on social media where people are weirdly interested. I think to have these bigger platforms, and to have an opportunity to also I think that’s something, you know, for, for people to be thinking about is how can you share your microphone? Or, you know, as Gloria Steinem says, like, how can you bring someone along? I think that’s always felt important. Twitter has been really fantastic, I forget what they call them. It’s like, nonprofit dollars for promotion. Where you can donate. Yeah, so I think he’s really out trying to, you know, he’s really trying to help as many of the different spokes that we can in this problem.
Jessica Lauretti 18:54
Yeah, and I think, like it is about that partnership, right, bringing together the folks who are working on the ground and nonprofit space, amazing creatives and technologists, a platform where we can really amplify this message. Those are kind of all of the pieces that a campaign really needs to…
Monica Lewinsky 19:12
We’ve been really lucky! Yeah, we’ve been really lucky too Jessica, in having had great media partners with I think, over the years, all three of the major networks. We’ve launched campaigns on those and I’ve certainly been grateful for that.
Jessica Lauretti 19:33
Absolutely. It’s a big part of the distribution and getting people to see this stuff is one part of all of these different things that have to come together to do..
Monica Lewinsky 19:41
Then I think about what really becomes, I don’t know, Greg, for you if it’s the same. For me, I think probably what becomes the most meaningful with these two is hearing from teachers like teachers who have used these campaigns in their classrooms. Yeah. So there’s just that element of, I think you, for me, it makes me feel like the work is making a difference. Doing something.
Greg Hahn 20:18
Yeah, anecdotally, we had, you know, we have one of the creatives on this campaign, his sister was a teacher and didn’t even know they were like, related to the work, but they were sharing it with their students. So, yeah, that’s really important. As a father of an 11 year old, I see this. You know, I’m part of the parents that are, you know, looking for the signs right now. It’s a frightening place to be. So anything that would help the situation is warranted.
Jessica Lauretti 20:49
Yeah, absolutely. In your TED talk, you talk about how technology can really amplify the harm of bullying and the impact behind that anonymity? Can you talk about how this affects marginalized groups like women, people of color, and also the LGBTQ+ community?
Monica Lewinsky 21:07
Yeah, I think we see that with technology, it can be both a curse and a blessing. So I mean, I always think it’s important, it’s very easy for us to all get on the train of how bad technology is, and how it’s how it’s being wielded. I just also want to point out that there can be good things that come from technology, but in particular, I think that women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community suffer far worse from the leeway that people have in turn on social media. It’s, in part because I mean, I worked too. I executive produced a documentary called 15 Minutes of Shame that came out last fall. We really look at this as well, in terms of understanding the process, how we’re building the things that we are seeing, that have happened to more marginalized communities. I think, in particular, Dr. Safiya, Noble talks about that women of color in particular have like, had this for the worst for the longest. I think we see what’s happening with the marginalized groups. They’re sort of the ghosts of what is to come. Which is why it’s important. So not only to help these groups and to help shift things. Because, obviously, there’s no reason anybody should be experiencing that. But, so in trying to focus on that, I also think, if we want to know where we’re going, you know, that this is where we’re headed and, it’s not okay.
Jessica Lauretti 22:44
Right. What do you think is the role and responsibility of these social media platforms and tech companies and all of this?
Monica Lewinsky 22:54
I think they need to put people over profit a bit more. I think that, you know, I understand with innovation and technology. I think we can all understand that you can’t safeguard for everything that could go wrong. When you’re coming up with something new, when you’re breaking new ground. I think there is a point at this point, now, you know, I would love to see a new social media company that is baking empathy into its design, baking these kinds of issues into how, you know, how do we nudge and cue people towards de-escalating instead of escalating?
Greg Hahn 23:39
Yeah, I think people over profits is a very good way to put it because, where they make their money is on engagement and what gets engagement is anger, fear, and then humiliation, right? Yes, and humiliation. The spectator sport of it. So, you know, they’ve built their model on hate as a performance art, where people are tuning in to watch the battle. That’s all due to the algorithm. I think there are things they can do to better calm those waters and not not generate more of what you know, is the evil bad part of social media.
Monica Lewinsky 24:18
Speaking of the receiving end of a tsunami of social media hate can be a life altering experience for people. You know, we use canceled culture to talk about so many different things. There is a swath of those of people who were who were, you know, I prefer accountability that Roxane Gay says consequence culture and Swisher says accountability culture. I think that you know, we need to hold all of those together. When this happens to people who are not public people, its effects are devastating.
Greg Hahn 25:03
I urge anyone to watch this documentary
Monica Lewinsky 25:06
Yeah, thanks, Greg.
Greg Hahn 25:09
It’s honestly effective because, you do think that these people who are massively shamed, but they’re almost like celebrities and the fact that, you know, they’re not real people to you when you’re, when you’re participating in that. You realize that, you know, for every person you’re calling out, that’s a human and they’re, they’re feeling that. You can’t disassociate that and you see in the documentary, you see the consequences of the other side of what happens when someone is judged that way without any facts or any, you know, thoughts of repercussion from the people that are doing it.
Monica Lewinsky 25:45
Yeah, I think, we’ve all been on the freeway, we’ve all seen a car accident on the freeway, we’ve all slowed down to rubberneck. You know, but how many of us think five seconds, five minutes, five hours five days later? Oh, is that person okay? We all participated. Of course, you know, the online disinhibition effect, like, psychologically leaves people in a place where I think, as you were saying, In the beginning, Jessica, to the anonymity of the screen. The fact that you’re also not, you know, not in person, I think we, you know, can’t read someone’s reaction. You can’t feel the energy of their emotion that, you know, we’ve all done that, right. Like, we make a joke to someone, and we’re like, oh, oops, that cut too deep. That was too soon, you know, but you don’t have that online. So we think context is really lost. It’s one thing to understand information. It’s another when you’re talking about a human life, in a real person.
Jessica Lauretti 27:00
Yeah absolutely. Want to be mindful of your time, but you want to tell us what’s next for your work in this space? Do you have any new projects on cyber bullying, to share with us?
Monica Lewinsky 27:10
You know, the last two years were a pause, I think the pandemic and so I think, you know, this year, it’s it’s trying to, not yet, maybe, but not yet. That rather than me trying to… So, yeah, I thank you, thank you so much for this. And thank you, you know, to the Anthem Awards for recognizing our work. You know, it’s these, these kinds of things really emotional, and thoughtful, and impactful storytelling can save someone’s life. You know, so this stuff is meaningful. It’s really meaningful. I’m grateful to have worked with everybody on these and we got to do them. Now I’ll shut up.
Greg Hahn 28:08
I don’t think I could have said any better than Monica just said. Thank you for having us. This has been a great talk.
Jessica Lauretti 28:14
Yeah, thank you both so much for joining us. Thank you for the work that you do. It’s really so important. So thank you, really appreciate it.
Monica Lewinsky 28:22
Transcribed by https://otter.ai