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With Pinterest and Twitter, Activists are Out to Punish Komen

BY Nick Judd | Friday, February 3 2012

Susan G. Komen for the Cure's decision Friday to reverse a rules change that would have cut off further funding to Planned Parenthood may not be enough to stem the outpouring of anger against the breast cancer research charity.

Komen's grantmaking rules no longer oblige it to issue no new grants to Planned Parenthood, but online activists are hoping to channel continued anger at what they say is the politicization of women's health issues into a sustained campaign.

This comes on the heels of days of action on the interwebs, from a "We Are the 99 Percent"-style Tumblr of stories about Planned Parenthood's impact on people's lives — called "Planned Parenthood Saved Me," conceived by social media strategist and "Share This!" author Deanna Zandt, and featured on MSNBC — to a Pinterest pinboard that takes the campaign against Komen to the latest darling platform of the new-social-media-tool crowd. That one was started by Beth Kanter, co-author of "The Networked Nonprofit" and another adviser to causes about how to be a nonprofit in the 21st century, and features media like this:

 

The widespread disapproval of Komen's de-funding decision online surely played a role in the organization's rapid retreat, and it's already clear that the action came from a group of people far larger than just a handful of social media consultants. It's just unclear exactly to what extent this type of action is due credit for what is sure to be a low water mark for the organization's reputation. After all, members of Congress called for Komen to change course, members of the organization's staff resigned in protest, some of its affiliates opposed the move and the entire debacle, once broken as a story by the old-media Associated Press, was covered closely in the mainstream press.

"We're seeing more and more of a weird relationship between the news cycle and the real-time news cycle online," said Amy Sample Ward, a social media consultant to nonprofits and the author of "Social by Social," a handbook about using social technologies for social change. Ward is involved in the campaign to use the Internet to continue pressuring Komen.

"I think that it's kind of a chicken-and-egg situation in that when it comes to anything on the Internet," she said, "adoption is the only currency that will actually directly correlate to value. If no one had picked up this story online then it wouldn't have turned into a CNN breaking news escapade and it wouldn't have turned into a Rachel Maddow feature. But because adoption was there, then it turned into the value for media, the value for all these campaigns, and actual value as far as Planned Parenthood fund-raising dollars coming in."

Without specifically naming the other organization, Komen announced changes Friday to a policy revealed on Tuesday that would have precluded Planned Parenthood — which receives money from Komen to fund mammograms and breast cancer screenings — from receiving additional grant money down the line. The New York Times had quoted a Komen board member as saying the change was targeted specifically at Planned Parenthood. Komen denies this, but not that its rule change would have obliged Komen to stop issuing new grants to Planned Parenthood going forward.

"It is our hope and we believe it is time for everyone involved to pause, slow down and reflect on how grants can most effectively and directly be administered without controversies that hurt the cause of women," Komen said in a statement. "We urge everyone who has participated in this conversation across the country over the last few days to help us move past this issue. We do not want our mission marred or affected by politics – anyone’s politics."

The statement continues:

Starting this afternoon, we will have calls with our network and key supporters to refocus our attention on our mission and get back to doing our work. We ask for the public’s understanding and patience as we gather our Komen affiliates from around the country to determine how to move forward in the best interests of the women and people we serve.

That last part is key. When news of the decision that would affect Planned Parenthood went public, it clearly upset many people in a community that Komen had spent decades building.

"People knew these organizations, people felt close to these organizations," Ward said. "They felt close enough to be personally pissed off."

In a way, Komen has damaged itself with its own success, Ward says.

"They so successfully for so many years created real ties with their community, when their community feels their trust has been broken, they're throwing [Komen] out the door and changing the lock," she suggested.

When news broke Tuesday that Komen would cease issuing grants to any organization under state, local or federal investigation — criteria that would exclude Planned Parenthood, which is under congressional investigation by Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) — it quickly spread through communities of both nonprofits.

"I'm involved with a lot of networks around women's leadership and women's healthcare population and sexual health and reproductive justice and all that and people are really angry," Kanter said. "I was getting a lot of [Twitter direct messages], I was getting a lot of emails. My Facebook wall is covered with people posting messages. And Planned Parenthood was fanning the flames, of course."

By Wednesday, online petitions emerged on Credo.org and MoveOn.org, and a Causes.com campaign emerged that has so far raised nearly $18,000. The fund-raising goal is $1 million. Kivi Leroux Miller, another communications consultant to nonprofits — and a progressive, pro-choice Democratnoted that Komen remained largely silent online through the day, save a single post to Facebook.

On Thursday, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg pledged to match up to $250,000 in donations to Planned Parenthood with his own money. Bloomberg's team sent out a fund-raising email to his personal email list, directing recipients to a Planned Parenthood fund-raising page, which I received this morning.

Through collaborative tools like this wikispaces site, net activists like Kanter have been urging influential people in their networks to tweet, post to Facebook, come up with biting Someecards, which are greeting-card-like mashups anyone can generate online using their own slogans and some stock photography — anything shareable that might continue to drive the argument that Komen has alienated its community, and keep that message bouncing around networks online.

On Sunday, Komen is expected to use the hashtag #supercure on Twitter during the Super Bowl, the NFL being a sponsor of the organization. Kanter and others are hoping that activists will flood the #supercure hashtag with retweets that include another tag, #takebackthepink, to make the argument online that Komen has politicized the issue of women's health, has indicated that it is a nonprofit that opposes abortion, and has "betrayed" its donors by failing to be honest and transparent about internal politics that this group suggests Komen has had all along.

With enough retweets, the campaign may accrue enough adoption — the fiat currency of the contemporary news cycle — to become relevant. Then again, it may not. What's already clear, though, is that Komen's decision-making has angered many of the people that its officers may have turned to for help in communicating its message during a crisis like this.

"It's personal," Kanter told me. "My sister-in-law just had a double mastectomy. She, luckily, she, has access to health care insurance, luckily she has access to screenings. The funding that Planned Parenthood got from Komen's was for low-income women. Why should they take the hit?"

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