I’ve never seen the women in my office more outraged than they were by the news last Tuesday that pink-ifying breast-cancer juggernaut Susan G. Komen Foundation was yanking its funding from Planned Parenthood. One colleague, whose mother was diagnosed with breast cancer last year, was almost in tears. “I gave them so much money!” she wailed. “I had everybody I know give them money!” She felt personally betrayed by Komen’s baldly political move, and betrayed all over again by the mealy-mouthed non-explanations offered up by founder Nancy Brinker. She wasn’t alone. Women throughout the country called foul and vowed they’d never go pink again; Susan G. board members resigned. On top of all that, on Friday news broke that the foundation had put its imprimatur on a pink-barreled handgun. Sweet Mother of God.
But even before I could share the news about the gun with my colleague, the second wave came crashing: Susan B. was caving, cravenly apologizing, restoring the threatened funding, and promising never to let politics intrude in its policies again. From start to finish, the whole debacle was a breathtaking demonstration of the changes technology has wrought in our lives. The news cycle these days turns over so fast, and cranks on so relentlessly, that wrongs get righted in record time. We read a story, we’re outraged, we share it on Twitter and Facebook, our friends read and share, a huge web stretches out endlessly into time and space, and the mighty fall to their knees. Pretty impressive, no?
Locally, there was another social-media righting-of-the-wrong last week. St. Joe’s University solicited stories of how “Hawkmates” met and fell in love at the school; the cute stories were then posted online. Megan Edwards and Katie MacTurk, a lesbian couple, duly wrote their romance up and submitted it. The school refused to post it because of the Catholic Church’s stance on homosexuality. Edwards and MacTurk took the Facebook path of revenge, and a mere day—and a few billion tons of worldwide negative publicity for St. Joe’s—later, their Hawkmates story finally appeared with the rest of the entries.
Talk about leveling the playing field! Social media turns even an unknown suburban-Philly lesbian couple into a powerhouse capable of taking on a huge institution. It lets millions of women’s individual voices be heard by a nonprofit behemoth in the blink of an eye.
Social media also spreads awful rumors and enables anonymous bullies. It proves that Obama’s birth certificate is fake. It says Bin Laden’s not dead! It cheats the elderly out of their life savings. It pillories a young man for committing a sexual assault for which there isn’t one iota of proof. It makes boys and girls hang themselves and jump off bridges and swallow too many pills.
I’d like to believe the heady sense of power I and so many other women felt last week when Susan G. Komen reversed its position makes up for Phoebe Prince and James Rodemeyer and Megan Meier and Justine Williams and all the other innocents who get mowed down by the Internet—that the lives of the women who’ll be cured of cancer balance out the lives lost to bullying. But I just can’t quite figure out how I feel about mob rule.