The internet is an amazing instrument. In only 25 years, it has transformed the way we do business. The power to connect lives over vast distances in space is a marvel, but it is just that which can be potentially deadly as well.
For several years, there has been an emerging understanding that the internet can damage young lives with its ability to wound: when a rumor goes viral it can hurt and lead to a sense of isolation in those who are vulnerable. The suicides of numerous young people targeted online by cyberbullies, have made national news, leading to legislation in a number of places about online conduct and cyberbullying. But what happens when the victim is middle-aged and equally vulnerable?
This brings us to the case of Dr. Shirley Koshi, a Bronx veterinarian who recently committed suicide after enduring months of online attacks by several national animal rights organizations. The full story of the cat custody battle that led to the cyber bullying can be found in previous writings on this site. The focus of this segment is the hostile atmosphere that allegedly contributed to Dr. Koshi's death.
Cyberbullying is defined as "posting rumors or gossip about a person in the internet bringing about hatred in other's minds; or it may go to the extent of personally identifying victims and publishing materials severely defaming and humiliating them." In the aftermath of high profile suicides, such as that of Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi, many states, including New York have passed cyberbullying laws: however, the scope of most of these laws is limited to students.
Nevertheless, there is a growing recognition that bullying can happen to adults, even in the workplace. The Work Place Bullying Institute, conducted a survey in 2014 during which 27% of adults said that they had been bullied in the work place. The survey concluded that work place bullying included "repeated abusive conduct that is threatening, intimidating, humiliating, work sabotage or work abuse."
The situation online can be even worse. The internet is a seductive, addictive environment that can create a sense of community and privacy where neither actually exists. As far as reputation is concerned, it can be devastating to view public criticism that you are unable to refute if you are a lone individual rebutting the commentary of an organized group.
Veterinary Abuse Network, exists as a website, as well as on Facebook. Its recently added stated purpose is as a forum to "Help educate the public about protecting their pets in a veterinary care setting." VAN generally details cases of what they describe as malpractice, giving details in the most strident language. Though they are located in Texas, VAN embraced the story of Karl the cat from the onset, and day after day they led the way in providing a vehicle for others to heap abuse on Dr. Koshi and anyone that spoke out against their treatment of her. Some of the milder criticism is shown below:
November 15, 2013 "She (Dr. Koshi) reminds me so much of freakzoid 'Dr.' Ed Nichols and all of their ilk—smug, self-satisfied, smirking, posing, preening, narcissistic hangers-on with their celebrity friends..."
November 16, 2013 "This freak is all about control...She hides behind religion every chance she gets (and as we know a HUGE red flag for this type of individual) Sick, dangerous, and yes, completely capable of destroying an innocent animal to get her way."
November 16, 2013 "What we have going for us is her complete stupidity. She's been off the radar for so many years, moving around from place to place, running and hiding like the spineless coward that she is, that she really thinks she's invisible. Because of what she has done to Karl, thanks to the internet, she will never be able to hide again. No, it won't bring Karl back – by her own hand she has disposed of him one way or another. Smiling her big, fat, evil smile the whole time."
November 26, 2013 "she has a history of moving around a LOT – licenses in five states so far, some expired, NYC active. Truly a living, breathing nightmare who acts like she's above the law and in charge of the world and everyone in it.
Nor was VAN the only site vilifying Dr. Koshi: Regret A Vet, Suki's Haven and others shared comments and criticisms, without impunity or regard for the truth. On January 7, for example, VAN writes, "She's at it again today with pictures of animals sleeping outside in the snow. Karl's colony from what I understand was state of the art, with beautiful warm shelters custom built, and checked on everyday by Gwen Jurmark and/or others." You only need to watch the video to see the reality of the conditions that the cats are living in to realize the truth of this comment.
Is it any wonder that in the aftermath of a slew of more comments like this, along with many more strident, abusive and venom laced assertions that Shirley Koshi felt isolated and humiliated? New to the neighborhood, struggling to create a private practice she must have felt overwhelmed and friendless, the career she had given her life to called into question.
The Riverdale Review, in a recent editorial wrote "The Riverdale Press was wrong to open this Pandora's Box of bad feelings and stupidity, things that are too petty for public review, and we were wrong for not coming to Dr. Koshi's aid when she was thus unfairly victimized....We feel terrible. She needed a friend, someone to say enough already. We failed her, and we regret our inaction."
We asked Lauren Henderson, a veterinary student at the University of Tennessee and a sponsor of the change.org petition where this story should end. "I'm not looking for revenge or an opportunity to exploit anyone. I want them to take a look at it to see if the justice system should investigate further. Ultimately though," she continued, "attacking someone through the internet is not the proper way to settle things. I want to raise awareness that this is an ongoing problem in our society that affects people of all ages. Most of all," she adds "I want justice for Dr. Koshi, and I think at least 3,300 people agree with me."