For supporters of the Susan G. Komen Foundation, this events of the past couple weeks have been difficult. Initially, the foundation decided to cease donating funds to Planned Parenthood, leading to rejoicing from pro-life advocates and scorn from pro-choice activists. It reversed its decision two days later, essentially hurting both sides in the process.
Lani Luo is one former supporter who has since changed her mind about the foundation that spearheaded research for a cure to breast cancer.
Luo, a junior political science and Asian Pacific studies double major at Loyola Marymount University, is involved in the Marians Service Organization, a group whose main cause is to support breast cancer awareness — and until this past week, they were also supporters of the Komen Foundation.
“I agreed with their mission because I thought their mission was very ideological in a good way. I thought it was very pro-women because it was doing research for cancer that’s specifically geared towards women,” Luo said.
Luo also supported the foundation because she said she felt they were more likely to achieve the results she hoped for.
“It was so effective because their message pretty much permeated our society completely and I felt that if there was ever a cure for breast cancer, Susan G. Komen would be the one to find that cure,” she said.
However, after Komen’s decision to stop giving funds to Planned Parenthood, Luo was forced to change her mind about the foundation.
“Susan G. Komen is supposed to be a non-partisan, non-profit organization that’s focused on finding a cure for breast cancer,” she said. “But they’re pulling funds away from Planned Parenthood is almost like an attack on the liberal ideology that Planned Parenthood has and personally I consider myself a feminist and a very pro-women kind of person, so I felt that what Susan G. Komen did was an attack not only on the ideology of the liberal standpoint, but an attack against women.”
Luo used Facebook and Tumblr to express her views about her dissatisfaction with Komen’s decision and was joined by thousands of others. After this social media outcry, Komen reversed its decision to stop funding Planned Parenthood and Luo credits this backlash for causing Komen to change its mind.
Andy Cline, a multimedia journalism professor at Missouri State University, said foundations should expect these kind of responses when making controversial decisions as anyone in the public eye should expect to be the subject of chatter on social media sites.
“What we’re learning is that you can’t do anything in public now without everyone on social media talking about it,” he said. “If you’re operating in the public, you’re a subject of social media. That’s just the way it is. It’s not going to change. Get used to it.”
The lack of effort involved in voicing opinions on social media also increases the number of people who are likely to express themselves, Cline said.
“It used to be you could make a decision to end the funding and some people might write letters to the editor, you might get some phone calls, but you kind of shield yourself from that and most people don’t take the time to pick up the phone because that’s effort,” he said.
“Tweeting? No effort. We’re all online and I can get on there, get on my blog, get on my Twitter, get on my Facebook and then it just multiplies,” he said. “I can complain ‘oh this person at this foundation did this terrible thing aren’t they awful?’ And put it on Facebook and all of a sudden seven or eight of my friends have done the same thing. And then suddenly eight of their friends have done the same thing and boom — it just grows.”
These seven or eight friends can quickly multiply to thousands of people who are all expressing the same views and organizations cannot afford to ignore them, especially if it’s a person with “political, social, or economic power,” Cline said.
One of the most powerful figures to voice his opinion of Komen’s decision was New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Twitter.
“Politics has no place in health care. Join me in standing with #PlannedParenthood,” Bloomberg said in a tweet on Feb. 2, adding that he would match donations to the organization up to $250,000 throughout the day.
Someone with the social media capabilities of Bloomberg who expresses an opinion about an organization can have a significant effect, Cline said.
“If your organization does something and a personality — like that of Michael Bloomberg — with cultural political weight comes out and denounces what you have done, that was never a comfortable thing, but today it gets magnified,” Cline said.
The presence of these opinions on social media sites influenced Komen to change it’s mind and made Planned Parenthood come out on top, Luo said.
“When Susan G. Komen decided to pull out its funding, so many people came out there and protested and they donated tons of money to Planned Parenthood towards breast cancer screenings,” she said. “And with the New York Mayor donating all that money, I think financially Planned Parenthood came out on top.”
Luo said that even though she no longer supports the Komen Foundation, she is glad that it changed its original decision to resume funding Planned Parenthood.
“I’m just glad that Susan G. Komen decided to change its mind only after two days because that just shows how powerful voices can be and how powerful social media is,” she said. “It demonstrates that it’s important for people to voice these kind of opinions when these huge corporations make these huge decisions because it affects a lot of lives.”
The Susan G. Komen Foundation and Planned Parenthood did not answer interview requests before press time for this article.
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