Throughout Dr. Poh Tan’s professional journey, she’s experienced bullying that targets her race, intellect, and gender.
“And, as online communication became more prevalent,” she says in an interview, “cyberbullying through emails became a reality.”
A few years ago, when she was a student, Poh received an abusive email from a peer. It contained vulgar and racist language.
“I was shocked. I felt angry, sad, and upset. I didn’t know what to do.”
She shared the email with her family and trusted friends. They cautioned her against responding because “poking a bully could make it worse.”
Three days later, another message arrived.
This time, the sender attempted to intimidate Poh into remaining silent. They instilled a fear of possible embarrassment if she shared the emails with others.
Eventually, Poh confided in an academic mentor whom she trusted. The mentor confirmed the language used in the emails was unacceptable. She then shared with Poh the impacts of cyberbullying and offered her support.
In the TELUS Originals documentary Dark Cloud: the high cost of cyberbullying, Matthew Johnson (Director of Education at MediaSmarts) explains that the anonymous features of digital media can enable those who bully because, "it’s harder for (them) to feel empathy.”
What's more, cyberbullying by its nature is “shareable and persistent.” The bullying can happen around the clock. It can be forwarded and shared with a large audience. This compounds its effects.
“Repetition within the context of cyberbullying is different because a harmful image [or emails] can be posted once but circulated hundreds of times,” (Cassidy, 2019).
For Poh, cyberbullying contributed to her stress and self-doubt. And, although her colleague was reprimanded, it still doesn’t feel entirely over.
“Sharing my story for this interview is triggering, but I want to bring awareness to acts of abuse through technology," Poh says.
She also wants others who experience cyberbullying to know there are more people who are against this behaviour.
"When a community stands together against cyberbullying, people will think twice before typing that hurtful email or text, or posting an inappropriate image.”
A Culture of Care