Case #1975.0

Social Media and the Planned Parenthood/ Susan G. Komen for the Cure Controversy

Publication Date: December 07, 2012
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In the early afternoon of Tuesday, January 31, 2012, the Associated Press released what would soon become a major news story, writing: The nation's leading breast-cancer charity, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, is halting its partnerships with Planned Parenthood affiliates creating a bitter rift, linked to the abortion debate, between two iconic organizations that have assisted millions of women. The change will mean a cutoff of hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants, mainly for breast exams. The article cited newly adopted criteria barring grants to organizations that are under investigation by local, state or federal authorities and referenced a congressional investigation of Planned Parenthood as the key reason for the change. Planned Parenthood accused Susan G. Komen for the Cure of  bowing to pressure from anti-abortion activists. Planned Parenthood's president, Cecile Richards, told the Associated Press, "It's hard to understand how an organization with whom we share a mission of saving women's lives could have bowed to this kind of bullying. It's really hurtful."

Over the next four days, the controversy roiled the nation, drawing politicians, activists, the press and supporters of both organizations into a painful battle that pitted one venerable women's health organization against another. Each organization appealed to its constituents using the mainstream press and social media outlets to support their position: Susan G. Komen for the Cure leaders emphasized the importance of administering high quality grants to direct service providers; Planned Parenthood claimed that women's health was being jeopardized for the sake of political expediency. Social media outlets were flooded with messages largely supporting Planned Parenthood and castigating Susan G. Komen for the Cure, which capitulated after four days of social and mass media criticism and reversed its funding decision.

This case explores the power of social media to drive social change by asking students to consider the effect of a well-managed social media campaign as well as the cost of inaction in a social media driven environment.

Learning Objective:
This case enables students to explore the structure of a viral campaign by examining the skillful moves of one and the less attentive actions of another organization. Students learn the tiger by the tail nature of the new social media and are asked to consider the actors, how they frame their communication, how they develop and augment content, whether they use internal vs. user generated content, the character of the ask, and mobilization as a resource.

Other Details

Teaching Plan:
Available with Educator Access
Case Author:
Laura Winig
Faculty Lead:
Archon Fung
Pages (incl. exhibits):
United States
Funding Source:
Joseph B. Tompkins, Jr. Fund for Case Study and Research