Yep, I Suggested Monica

Posted on by Sandra Toms

Have you ever had that awkward pause moment when you make a suggestion, and people look at you like you have a third eye? It feels like second nature to me! I don’t consider myself an “events person,” but I’m responsible for one of the world’s largest cybersecurity events. 

So, imagine the awkward pause moment I had when I suggested we have Monica Lewinsky keynote at RSA Conference. Most people said, “What does she have to do with information security?” – which is an incredibly appropriate and fair reaction – and the honest answer is “very little.”

But, part of our goal with keynote speakers is to inspire and get all of us to think broadly, learning from thought leaders that are adjacent to our core business. And what Monica is doing to make a difference with cyber-shaming and cyber-bullying is profound. Plus, her message ties directly into several initiatives RSA Conference has around cyber-safety education. I believed it was a topic too important to leave alone.

As a 22-year old, Monica experienced pre-Twitter shaming of her own. The results of which became part of a process to impeach a sitting President and was routinely talked about on nightly news broadcasts worldwide.

Twenty years later, Monica has gathered the courage to speak about shaming and bullying that she sees on the internet, and how the problem is much worse than ever before. She challenged us all to be “up-standers” to the negative social shaming, instead of “bystanders” – meaning, stopping what we see happening on social media and other channels versus participating and supporting these activities with a quick like or share.

And for the several thousand people that watched her keynote, many were moved. Here are some of the verbatim comments we received: 

  • “Absolutely heartbreaking and eye-opening. She was incredibly eloquent and engaging.”
  • “Excellent and inspiring presentation. I am really happy that she seems to have recovered her self-respect and is still taking the personal risk to such an important cause, given all she has gone through. She is definitely helping to make the world a better place.”
  • “Great personal correlation to information and security and social reactions thereto.”
  • “I was a bit skeptical when I saw Monica was going to be one of the speakers. Turns out, I think she was the best keynote of the day! Fantastic.”

The other measure of how well a speaker resonates at RSAC is their overall session score. Monica was the highest rated keynote speaker this year.

Unfortunately, we were not able to record Monica’s session (at her request). But she did present similar remarks at another conference – you can watch that recording here. And if you would like to see the PSA she played during her talk, you can watch this below. 

Sometimes the awkward pause moments can lead to something insightful, and I’m glad I trusted my gut. I encourage all of us to take on Monica’s challenge and be an up-stander. Search for empathy and understanding when reading a Twitter storm. Click with compassion, and post something positive on social media. Resist the urge to jump in the negative fray, and remember that 280 characters is simply not enough to provide balance to any story.

Sandra Toms

Vice President and Curator, RSA Conference

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