A social media post falsely announcing the death of Indian actress Poonam Pandey due to cervical cancer, followed by a video revealing it as part of a publicity campaign, has ignited a debate on the ethical implications of online awareness efforts.
Pandey’s official Instagram account released a statement declaring her demise, leading to widespread tributes and news coverage. The subsequent video explained the staged death was part of a campaign to raise awareness about cervical cancer, a move criticized for insensitivity and sparking emotional distress among those affected by the disease.
Pandey, known for controversial online content, revealed in the video that the campaign aimed to draw attention to cervical cancer, often referred to as a “silent killer” due to its asymptomatic early stages. Critics question the appropriateness of using death as a shock tactic for awareness, especially given the sensitive nature of cancer-related issues.
The timing of the campaign coincided with India’s Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announcing steps to vaccinate girls aged nine to 14 against the human papillomavirus (HPV), which can lead to cervical cancer. While speculation exists about a potential link between the campaign and the government’s strategy, no official connection has been established.
The controversy has prompted discussions about the balance between effectiveness and ethics in creating viral campaigns. Many social media users expressed disappointment in the media for reporting Pandey’s death without verification, highlighting concerns about journalistic standards.
Schbang, the social media agency behind the campaign, issued an apology, acknowledging those who felt triggered by the stunt. They emphasized the campaign’s goal was to raise awareness about cervical cancer and shared statistics related to its prevalence in India. The backlash has raised broader questions about who sets ethical standards in advertising, media, and audience consumption.