On Tuesday, January 31st, 2012, the Susan G. Komen for the Cure, a well-known charity organization devoted to stopping breast cancer, announced it planned to sever ties and defund Planned Parenthood, an organization devoted to all forms of women’s health. This includes providing breast cancer screenings, sexual health education, contraception (birth control, the morning after pill, and condoms), pregnancy counseling and assistance, and abortions. Komen had previously specifically funded Planned Parenthood because of its free breast cancer screenings, but decided to defund the organization because its own policy forbade providing financial support to any organization under government investigation.
By Wednesday, February 1st, 2012 (the next day), the Internet exploded with critique and disapproval for Komen. Most critics believed that Komen had cut funding because Planned Parenthood provides abortions, a controversial issue. Users on Twitter and Facebook especially protested, including celebrities, politicians, and authors. Many argued that the abortion clinics at Planned Parenthood are not the main focus of the organization, and that it provides important health benefits to all women. They believed that the Planned Parenthood should not be punished for allowing abortions, and that Komen was in fact hurting women who relied on Komen’s donations for breast cancer screenings. The donations from Komen were never used to provide abortions and used only breast cancer screenings. When Komen pulled its funds, individuals donated directly to Planned Parenthood, in order to “make up” for its lost funds, and eventually acquired $3 million in donations.
Twitter.com, a website used to provide instant updates on events and opinions around the world, provides tags, allowing users to track words used in tweets (posts) around the world. From that Wednesday, the words “Komen” and “Planned Parenthood” were among the most-mentioned words in tweets.
By Friday, February 3, 2012, Komen reversed its decision, apologizing to Planned Parenthood and supporters, saying that the decision to defund was not intended to be political.
Regardless of individual stance on abortion and Planned Parenthood, it is easy to identity that social media networks like Twitter and Facebook allowed the backlash against Komen to be instantly heard and recognized. Without these networks’ activity, Komen would not have so quickly overturned their decision. If this event had happened 20 years ago, newspapers would have published editorials and TV stations would report personal opinions. Perhaps Komen would have still overturned the decision, but it would have taken weeks, perhaps months, perhaps years. In 2012, this decision was overturned in three days because of the backlash on social media networks. Social media networks allowed for individuals’ free speech to make an immediate impact.