Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign


This design file is a work in progress. It was last updated January 16, 2021. We welcome contributions, corrections, and updates. Read Collecting Design (Digitally) at M21D to learn more about our approach to collecting design.

  • Creators: Swedish Cancer Society

  • Materials and methods: digital images and the infrastructure that powers them

  • Carbon footprint: ongoing research

  • Energy: ongoing research

  • Labor: ongoing research

  • ​Equality: the campaign worked to bring basic health care information to people with breasts

  • Access: ongoing research

  • Life-cycle assessment: ongoing research


The Campaign

In 2016, the Swedish Cancer Society produced a video to help people learn how to do breast exams on their own. The video displayed animated figures with circle-shaped breasts to explain how to check for suspicious lumps.

The video seems harmless enough, but Facebook banned it for marketing “sex products or services or adults products or services.” The platform subsequently u-turned and said the film had been incorrectly removed, adding: “We apologize for the error and have let the advertiser know we are approving their ads.”


The Guardian reports that Sweden’s Cancerfonden said it had tried in vain to contact Facebook and had decided to appeal against the decision to remove the video. “We find it incomprehensible and strange how one can perceive medical information as offensive,” Cancerfonden communications director Lena Biornstad told Agence France-Presse. “This is information that saves lives, which is important for us,” she said. “This prevents us from doing so.”

In the meantime, the non-profit organization wrote an open letter to Facebook featuring a rejigged image that shows a square set of breasts.

The letter reads: “We understand that you have to have rules about the content published on your platform. But you must also understand that one of our main tasks is to disseminate important information about cancer – in this case breast cancer. [...] After trying to meet your control for several days without success, we have now come up with a solution that will hopefully make you happy: Two pink squares!”


The SCS’s response is interesting, as it reveals abstraction as a method for avoiding censorship. By simply changing the shape of its illustrations, the organization proposed an alternative vehicle for the dissemination of information; moreover, the series of illustrations reveal the absurdity of censorship; what line, exactly, does Facebook draw in censors when a  series of circles are considered problematic. 


As multiple journalists note, Facebook had spent 2016 on the defense for removing what it deemed “sexual content,” including an iconic photograph showing the horrors of the Vietnam War. In the image, children run from a Napalm attack. The photographer Nick Ut Cong Huynh took the photograph for The Associated Press in 1972 and received a Pulitzer Prize for it.


Deutsche Welle reports that Facebook had originally deleted the image when a Norwegian newspaper posted it because one of the children depicted is naked. The Norwegian Prime Minister accused Facebook of attempting "to edit our common history." After public outcry against the deletion of the image, Facebook changed its decision — the same pattern the social network exhibited with the Swedish Cancer Society’s video. 


Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign and M21D 

At M21D, we’re interested in the power exercised through advertising and social media, and the Swedish Cancer Society’s campaign deals with both within the context of social engagement. The controversy, although quickly amended, highlights society’s unnecessary sexualization of bodies with breasts and the suppression of basic health care that it incurs. 


We’re eager to continue our research and learn more about the impacts of the campaign and how it changed social media’s treatment of bodies in public.