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As an erotic clip is used to promote Pap testing, how can health organisations strike the right balance on social media?

For those who like to cast public health as the breeding ground of moralistic puritans, check out this rathe


For those who like to cast public health as the breeding ground of moralistic puritans, check out this rather erotic clip from PapScreen Victoria, promoting Pap tests.

While I might wish the clip gave viewers some measure of risk (seeing as we are told “you only have to have sex once to risk cervical cancer”, it would be nice to know what are the actual odds of developing cervical cancer as the result of one sexual encounter), it’s hard to argue with the clip’s impact factor.

In the article below, Amy Collie, Media and Communications Advisor from PapScreen Victoria, says that while social media channels bring useful opportunities for public health campaigns, there are also challenges to negotiate.

Open debate about the merits of screening programs is useful, but it’s also important to correct factual errors and misinformation, she says.


The rise of social media: how do you facilitate open discussion without jeopardising accuracy?

Amy Collie writes:

Earlier this month, PapScreen Victoria (the cervical screening program within Cancer Council Victoria) launched a digital campaign in the form of an online video.

There was no advertising support for the campaign. We didn’t pay for it to appear on TV or cinema screens, get a run on catch-up TV or get aired on the radio. Instead, it relied purely on unpaid PR and social media for exposure.


It’s no secret that brands are turning more and more to social media to promote their products and services. It’s a free, quick way to communicate directly with consumers, and often without the complications of lengthy approval processes or branding guidelines.

Cancer Council Victoria is no different, and as a not-for-profit with limited and sometimes non-existent advertising budgets, we actually rely quite heavily on social media. This recent campaign from PapScreen was housed on Cancer Council’s youtube channel and was heavily promoted to our 6,000+ Facebook fans and 3,500 Twitter followers. Without these community-reaching avenues, and with no budget for traditional advertising, the campaign would not have been possible.

Social media clearly has benefits for the consumer as well. They have the opportunity to communicate with organisations directly, and their opinions will be heard. This is perhaps even more relevant when disgruntled customers wish to make a complaint, and wish to make it publicly. Major Australian retailer Target recently felt the repercussions of this after criticisms of their children’s clothing line were posted on their Facebook page.

Of course for all their benefits, social media platforms such as Facebook also bring with them some fresh complications and challenges, particularly since the Advertising Standards Board’s (ASB) ruling that Facebook is an advertising medium. This landmark decision means companies are now fully liable for all the content on their branded Facebook pages, including posts from fans.

Organisations have no choice but to closely moderate comments from the public and remove any that could be considered misleading or deceptive, or that may breach the self-regulatory codes of advertising. If companies fail to do so within a reasonable time, they risk being penalised.

So, where’s the balance between open discussion and removing content that could be deemed inappropriate? It’s a tricky one.

For health organisations such as the Cancer Council, misleading or inaccurate information can potentially have dire consequences, so we’re very conscientious about ensuring any information included on our social media sites, including from members of the public, is correct.

However, we also want people to have the chance to voice their opinions and interact with us and other members of the community.

Cervical screening, like all screening programs, has its challengers. We understand cervical screening should be an informed choice, and that some women may choose not to participate.

We have no problem with anti-cervical screeners posting their opinions on our Facebook page, and we encourage educated debate.

However, while opinion and debate is one thing, misleading information and belief portrayed as fact is quite another.

When comments are posted that are factually inaccurate and misinform women about cervical cancer prevention, we have a responsibility to remove them. If we didn’t, and chose to publish a response instead, there’s the risk that some women won’t have the time or inclination to read everything, and will walk away either misinformed or feeling confused about their health choices.

As an organisation, we aim to provide clear information, including potential harms and benefits, in order for women to consent to – or opt out of – cervical screening in an informed way.

The rise of social media has enabled anyone with access to a computer (or a smartphone or tablet) to join in public discussions and have their say. It’s now up to individual organisations to facilitate this discussion without jeopardising the accuracy and value of their online content.

• Amy Collie is Media & Communications Advisor, PapScreen Victoria



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