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Monica Lewinsky Ted Talk.jpg

We Got This: How Monica Lewinsky & Chelsea Manning Are Saving Twitter

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Celebrity | August 16, 2017 |

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Celebrity | August 16, 2017 |

Twitter sucks.

The social media site is a near irredeemable cesspool of harassment, abuse and general misery. Not only is it the breeding ground of Nazis, white supremacists and other such contemptible hate groups, it’s the preferred platform of choice for the leader of the free world to spew his ignorance to the widest audience possible, thus ensuring we’ll all die just that little bit sooner. It is, as Buzzfeed noted in a report on their ludicrous ineptitude towards tackling its increasing toxicity, a ‘honeypot for assholes’, and it may destroy us all.

Still, it’s not all that bad.

Move in the right circles, meet the right people and overcome that hesitation to mute any jerk that pollutes your space, and you can make something great out of the site. Twitter’s been good to me in its capacity to unite me with wonderful friends, like-minded hobbyists and incredible colleagues. Sometimes, when a joke on my feed makes me splutter with laughter or I revel in a live-tweet of a show with pals, I almost forget the site’s a breeding ground for racists.

One benefit of Twitter is that it has shown us the ways in which the rich and famous work to communicate with fans and the public spectrum at large. No longer is it enough to do glossy interviews or send out the occasional press release: Now, you’re expected to like and share and selfie until your smile can no longer hold. Even if you’re just outsourcing that gig to an eager intern, the suggestion of visibility and accessibility to the masses is what matters. It can do wonders for your image and completely change how people see you. How many of us outside of America knew who Chrissy Teigen was before encountering her stellar Twitter feed? Most major faces don’t want you to know the real them because that’s simply too much to ask, but being as relatable as possible is now an expected part of the process. It’s an impossible task, but the trappings of social media have given unprecedented power to some surprising figures, and with that power has come the ability to take back the narratives ripped from their lives by politics, media and misogyny.

If you’re not following Monica Lewinsky or Chelsea Manning on Twitter, you should do so now. This week, Lewinsky tweeted about craving an ice-cream clown from 31 Flavors, recommended the John Cho film Columbus, and wished her followers a happy Friday with a photo of the view from her office. For Chelsea, she got in some batting practice knocking down some trolls with her positive clap-backs, shared a couple of memes, and tweeted lots of inspiring emojis to the world with the hashtag #WeGotThis. Oh, and she ensured that the Nazis of the world knew her stance on the subject with a suitably badass of her stomping her boot to the camera.

They are two of the most delightful people to keep up with on a site that can be exhausting at the best of times. Between right-wing demagogues spewing out their every racist thought and a veritable sea of bad satirists who are convinced saying racist stuff ‘ironically’ is a defence, there’s something inspiring and calming about the simplicity of two women just trying to live their best lives and sharing the experience with the world.

All of that seems rather mundane. Don’t we all tweet about ice-cream and emojis and the films we like? It’s Twitter as usual, but that’s what makes it so radical and so inspiring. Here are two women who have spent their time in the public eye being anything but mundane. The right to boredom and normalcy was ripped from them both by the media, the political establishment, and a public hungry for an easy target. As Lewinsky herself has noted in her anti-cyberbullying activism, she was essentially Patient Zero in the ever-expanding ecosystem of internet abuse. After her affair with Bill Clinton became the story of the year, open season on Lewinsky was declared. The jokes were ceaseless, the insults abhorrent, and the defences of her near non-existent, even from many feminist circles. To this day, her surname is still a punchline unto itself, a slang term seldom applied in complimentary terms. While her name drifted from public consciousness following the end of the Clinton Presidency, her life didn’t continue as expected. She dabbled in a media career, then returned to higher education, but even with a Master’s degree from the prestigious London School of Economics, nobody wanted to hire Monica Lewinsky. Even the ability to do something as boring as work was stripped from her because of her perceived notoriety.

For Chelsea Manning, the brutality of her situation cannot be under-played. Imagine seven years in a maximum-security prison, a large portion of it in solitary confinement. Imagine being able to medically transition the way you want and need to while locked up, to the point where you have to sue to be able to even grow your hair longer. Imagine the severe cost to your mental health, and knowing that everyone in the outside world has an opinion on your right to exist. Manning’s whistle-blowing made her a lightning rod on so many issues, and eventually she was reduced to a mere bit-part in a game of egos, politics and policy. Most of us didn’t even know what she sounded like until she was released from prison.

Truly, we didn’t know anything about either of these women beyond the parts they played in bigger narratives they had little to no control over. All we could know was the image of them presented to us, positively or otherwise. You hear the jokes, you see the slurs, you watch their names be tossed around like dog toys to score cheap points. That makes it near impossible to ask something as frivolous as how they enjoy their coffee or what colour of lipstick they’re wearing.

Twitter has given both Lewinsky and Manning a platform that they can use to take back their narrative, and they’re doing so with positivity, silliness, and a strong clear vision for ensuring what happens to them never happens to anyone else. Lewinsky is a Vanity Fair contributor and ambassador for Bystander Revolution and The Anti-Bullying Campaign. She tweets support for women experiencing online misogyny and sends ‘love, compassion + hope’ to Sinead O’Connor. Every tweet shines with this fierce dedication to being positive, because she knows that this site is used too often for the opposite. Manning takes on trolls, but never with bitterness, even though she has every right to do so. She encounters the vilest transphobic abuse daily, and bats it off with some vibrant emojis and a sturdy reminder that nothing will bring her down. After all, she’s already experienced the worst that humanity has to offer. When Manning shares her unabashedly giddy inspirational tweets, filled to the brim with emojis and hashtagged with #WeGotThis, I can’t help but feel lifted by that.

Lewinsky and Manning’s joyous tweeting makes the site a brighter place, but it’s those slyer moments that truly cement their status as all-time greats on the platform. This week, Anthony Scaramucci, still on the rant of his life, called journalist Ryan Lizza ‘the Linda Tripp of 2017’. Lewinsky quote-tweeted with the flushed face emoji, no extra words needed. After close to two decades of being the butt of everyone’s jokes, now Monica gets the last laugh.

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Kayleigh is a features writer for Pajiba. You can follow her on Twitter or listen to her podcast, The Hollywood Read.