How the Internet changed Komen’s mind

The torrent of reactions to the cancer group's Planned Parenthood defunding proves the power of social media VIDEO

Topics: Breast cancer, Planned Parenthood, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, Editor's Picks, ,

How the Internet changed Komen's mindNancy Brinker, founding chair of Susan G. Komen for the Cure (Credit: AP/Salon)

It started with a tweet. And in the end, that’s what won the war. On Tuesday, Planned Parenthood sent out a no-punches-pulling alert that “Susan G. Komen caves under anti-choice pressure, ends funding for breast cancer screenings at PP health centers.” By Friday, Komen for the Cure had said it was sorry, and reversed its decision.

Within minutes on that Tuesday bombshell, the tale had become not just a news story but a social media explosion, with a flurry of responses pouring out across Facebook, Twitter and Komen’s own message boards – overwhelmingly disapproving of Komen for the Cure’s severing of its ties to Planned Parenthood. And in the process, it became an object lesson in how to handle a crisis, how to make it worse, and then how to fix it.

Planned Parenthood is, by now, well versed in how to handle outside attacks and negative publicity. Along the way, the organization has become pretty smooth at it. From the moment that first message about Komen appeared, Planned Parenthood remained relentless in keeping momentum going on the story, posting links to news coverage, retweeting supportive messages, and repeatedly reminding people how to donate to the cause across all of its social media platforms.



Komen, in contrast, could hardly have seemed more spectacularly blundering in all of it. As one commenter posted, “the last thing as unpopular on Facebook as this Komen thing was Michael Jackson’s death.” Not only did the organization clearly not even consider sending out its own preemptive, damage-controlling message, it waited more than a full day before responding to the outcry at all. And when it did, oof. In a tense, frozen-faced message on YouTube, its founder and CEO, Nancy Brinker, talked about moving forward with “new strategies” and declared, “We will never bow to political pressure … The scurrilous accusations being hurled at this organization are profoundly hurtful … and a dangerous distraction.” She never mentioned Planned Parenthood once. Deanna Zandt, consultant and author of “Share This! How You Will Change the World With Social Networking,” told Salon Friday, “I’m going to start using that video in my workshops as an example of what not to do.”

Komen for the Cure is not in the same business as Planned Parenthood – and it doesn’t need to be. But had Komen truly wished to give the appearance of being apolitical, Nancy Brinker might have acknowledged the story in a less obviously gutless way in her message. Surely Brinker could have taken a moment to say something along the lines of, “We’ve had to make some changes that we feel will be of more direct service to low-income women, but we’re proud of our years of association with Planned Parenthood, and support our colleagues in their ongoing efforts for the cause of women’s health.”

Komen’s Twitter feed had been similarly testy of late, with updates that “Our Board approved new grants standards to improve direct services to women” and “Our supporters know that no other #breastcancer organization serves women at the size and scope that Susan G. Komen for the Cure does.”

Why does it matter? Because while Komen was cautiously portioning out terse, defensive responses that smacked of “You should all be grateful for how much we do for you people,” Planned Parenthood and its supporters had been not just expressing their indignation but harnessing it, in ways that will both make you weep and make you laugh. Social media is all about connection. That’s why Planned Parenthood not only posted a letter from a supporter; it made it the organization’s newest petition. “When you go after Planned Parenthood and the people they serve,” it reads in part, “you go after ME.” Direct, personal and powerful.

That’s why Deanna Zandt decided, when people were talking about pulling their money from Komen — “What do you do if you don’t have money to pull?” — to create Planned Parenthood Saved Me with the message to “Pinkwash THIS.” In no time, the Tumblr was flooded with heart-stopping tales of cancer detection, healthcare services, lives saved, all doled out with, significantly, “dignity.” And that’s also why, in the last few days, your Facebook page has likely become a torrent of brilliant eCards and cartoons, and why the Komen Web page was hacked in such a subtly funny manner. You want to get your message across? You want to maintain your credibility with your constituents? Hammer and keep hammering at the heartstrings and the funny bones. And hammer some more.

One could argue that the uppity, snark-lobbing types who tweet their rage and create blogs aren’t the kind of people who can hit Komen where it hurts – in donations. But the backlash was so strong and so sustained that it didn’t take long to ripple right out there to America’s wallets. Planned Parenthood swiftly saw a stunning boom in donations – including a fat promise of up to $250,000 from New York’s billionaire Mayor Mike Bloomberg.

So then what happened? A stunning reversal. On Friday morning, Komen issued the statement that “We will continue to fund existing grants, including those of Planned Parenthood, and preserve their eligibility to apply for future grants, while maintaining the ability of our affiliates to make funding decisions that meet the needs of their communities.” It’s not exactly a rousing endorsement of PP, nor will it likely deflect scrutiny from its future maneuverings, but it’s amazing nonetheless. Amazing that it happened at all, and even more amazing because in the statement on Twitter, Komen even added that “We want to apologize for recent decisions that cast doubt upon our commitment to our mission of saving women’s lives.” Clear. Direct. Human, even. The world sent a message. And Komen learned from it.

UPDATE: Looks like Komen is still getting the hang of these things –  oddly enough, they’ve already made Nancy Brinker’s original YouTube response on the matter “private.” The better to act like it never happened?

Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and the author of "Gimme Shelter: My Three Years Searching for the American Dream." Follow her on Twitter: @embeedub.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 14
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Pilot"

    One of our first exposures to uncomfortable “Girls” sex comes early, in the pilot episode, when Hannah and Adam “get feisty” (a phrase Hannah hates) on the couch. The pair is about to go at it doggy-style when Adam nearly inserts his penis in “the wrong hole,” and after Hannah corrects him, she awkwardly explains her lack of desire to have anal sex in too many words. “Hey, let’s play the quiet game,” Adam says, thrusting. And so the romance begins.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Elijah, "It's About Time"

    In an act of “betrayal” that messes up each of their relationships with Hannah, Marnie and Elijah open Season 2 with some more couch sex, which is almost unbearable to watch. Elijah, who is trying to explore the “hetero side” of his bisexuality, can’t maintain his erection, and the entire affair ends in very uncomfortable silence.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Charlie, "Vagina Panic"

    Poor Charlie. While he and Marnie have their fair share of uncomfortable sex over the course of their relationship, one of the saddest moments (aside from Marnie breaking up with him during intercourse) is when Marnie encourages him to penetrate her from behind so she doesn’t have to look at him. “This feels so good,” Charlie says. “We have to go slow.” Poor sucker.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and camp friend Matt, "Hannah's Diary"

    We’d be remiss not to mention Shoshanna’s effort to lose her virginity to an old camp friend, who tells her how “weird” it is that he “loves to eat pussy” moments before she admits she’s never “done it” before. At least it paves the way for the uncomfortable sex we later get to watch her have with Ray?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Hard Being Easy"

    On the heels of trying (unsuccessfully) to determine the status of her early relationship with Adam, Hannah walks by her future boyfriend’s bedroom to find him masturbating alone, in one of the strangest scenes of the first season. As Adam jerks off and refuses to let Hannah participate beyond telling him how much she likes watching, we see some serious (and odd) character development ... which ends with Hannah taking a hundred-dollar bill from Adam’s wallet, for cab fare and pizza (as well as her services).

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Booth Jonathan, "Bad Friend"

    Oh, Booth Jonathan -- the little man who “knows how to do things.” After he turns Marnie on enough to make her masturbate in the bathroom at the gallery where she works, Booth finally seals the deal in a mortifying and nearly painful to watch sex scene that tells us pretty much everything we need to know about how much Marnie is willing to fake it.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Tad and Loreen, "The Return"

    The only sex scene in the series not to feature one of the main characters, Hannah’s parents’ showertime anniversary celebration is easily one of the most cringe-worthy moments of the show’s first season. Even Hannah’s mother, Loreen, observes how embarrassing the situation is, which ends with her husband, Tad, slipping out of the shower and falling naked and unconscious on the bathroom floor.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and the pharmacist, "The Return"

    Tad and Loreen aren’t the only ones to get some during Hannah’s first season trip home to Michigan. The show’s protagonist finds herself in bed with a former high school classmate, who doesn’t exactly enjoy it when Hannah puts one of her fingers near his anus. “I’m tight like a baby, right?” Hannah asks at one point. Time to press pause.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Role-Play"

    While it’s not quite a full-on, all-out sex scene, Hannah and Adam’s attempt at role play in Season 3 is certainly an intimate encounter to behold (or not). Hannah dons a blond wig and gets a little too into her role, giving a melodramatic performance that ends with a passerby punching Adam in the face. So there’s that.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and Ray, "Together"

    As Shoshanna and Ray near the end of their relationship, we can see their sexual chemistry getting worse and worse. It’s no more evident than when Ray is penetrating a clothed and visibly horrified Shoshanna from behind, who ends the encounter by asking if her partner will just “get out of me.”

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Frank, "Video Games"

    Hannah, Jessa’s 19-year-old stepbrother, a graveyard and too much chatting. Need we say more about how uncomfortable this sex is to watch?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Desi, "Iowa"

    Who gets her butt motorboated? Is this a real thing? Aside from the questionable logistics and reality of Marnie and Desi’s analingus scene, there’s also the awkward moment when Marnie confuses her partner’s declaration of love for licking her butthole with love for her. Oh, Marnie.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Vagina Panic"

    There is too much in this scene to dissect: fantasies of an 11-year-old girl with a Cabbage Patch lunchbox, excessive references to that little girl as a “slut” and Adam ripping off a condom to ejaculate on Hannah’s chest. No wonder it ends with Hannah saying she almost came.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>