Web 2.0 Suicide, Not Armageddon, Komen’s Problem

CyberlandGal's grandmother PaulineBreast cancer is personal for me. My own grandmother survived breast cancer. Three of my coworkers had breast cancer and one died, leaving two young children. Another friend of mine also survived breast cancer.

For that reason, when I received a direct message from Beth Kanter on Twitter asking me to post tweets with #takebackthepink and #supercure during the SuperBowl I did. I supported Beth’s efforts to make women’s health care accessible to everyone. Every child should have the opportunity to have a grandmother survive breast cancer. Low-income children shouldn’t have to watch their grandmothers suffer and die because they couldn’t afford a mammogram.

In case you’ve been hiding under a rock the last two weeks, Beth’s direct message was in response to Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s politically tinged decision to pull all funding from Planned Parenthood centers. The Komen grants, totaling in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, were mainly intended for free breast screenings for low-income women. None of the money was being used to fund abortions, so cutting off funding did nothing to stop them. The decision, which was reversed February 3, would have left countless of mothers and grandmothers without access to free mammograms.

The effort Beth was promoting ended up completely hijacking the #supercure hashtag during the SuperBowl. Tweets with #supercure and #takebackthepink completely drowned out Komen supporters who planned to promote their organization with #supercure during the sporting event (the NFL is one of Komen’s major sponsors). It (along with several other anti-Komen social media campaigns) helped make conversations about Komen on social media 40 percent negative when they usually are pretty flat.

I am writing this post because I read in the Daily Beast former Komen Vice President Karen Handel is calling Planned Parenthood a “gigantic bully” for launching a social-media firestorm:

“Planned Parenthood launched a vicious attack on a nonprofit organization that fights breast cancer,” she said. “Komen gave out $93 million in community grants last year. Planned Parenthood got $680,000—less than 1 percent of the total granting portfolio. They unleashed Armageddon on an organization for $680,000.”

Her comment reflects the lack of awareness many people in senior positions still have about social media and its power.  One individual and even a leaderless swarm can inspire seismic change in a Web 2.0 world. All you need is motivation, a good wireless connection, and an understanding of social media and psychological insights. Of course, you need luck and a great cause with emotional pull too.

Breast cancer is such a cause for many people like me. That is why I’ve given money to Komen on more than one occasion. But my loyalty is to fighting breast cancer, not an organization with questionable transparency. It’s beyond bad luck Komen apparently hadn’t bothered creating a crisis communications plan that included social media while Beth and other opponents to its Planned Parenthood decision did—even without the benefit Komen enjoyed of knowing about the decision weeks before it became public.

Many would more accurately call that suicide in a Web 2.0 world, not Armageddon.

Your turn! What do you think is the biggest lesson learned from the Komen-Planned Parenthood controversy?

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About Monica

Monica specializes in strategic communications, web and new media, and print materials with an international or multi-cultural context. She has worked on national public outreach campaigns targeting multi-cultural audiences and has conceptualized, written, and/or designed multiple websites. Monica also has written, edited, and/or designed high-profile newsletters, brochures, and reports, including some prepared in collaboration with the White House. She holds a bachelor’s in journalism and a master of international service with a focus on international communication. Monica is based in Washington, D.C.


  1. Allison Fine wrote an excellent post today about the broader #takebackthepink effort at http://www.allisonfine.com/2012/02/13/take-back-the-pink-lessons-learned/ that explains the roles of many players in the effort! It’s definitely worth a read!