Signing up as an organ donor on the back of your driver's license is one step. But now Facebook wants to make the process a little more public and social. On May 1, the company added the ability to share organ donor status in members' timelines, or profiles.
Following the announcement, the number of people volunteering to make an anatomical gift rose from the usual 400 a day to 6,000 people in 22 state registries that same day, according to Donate Life America, which has partnered with Facebook on the initiative.
Facebook now directs users in the United States and United Kingdom to Donate Life America's registration page to designate themselves as organ, eye or tissue donors.
"We want to encourage every Facebook user to take a moment and update their timeline, register to be a donor and share their decision with family and friends," David Fleming, president and CEO of Donate Life America, said in a statement. "It is a simple way to provide hope for those in need."
More than 114,000 people in the U.S. need organ donations, according to Organdonor.gov.
To register as a donor, Facebook members can click Life Event in their timeline, then Health & Wellness, followed by Organ Donor. They can sign up on Facebook with a registry, or if they're already registered, they can share their organ donor status by entering location, date and a story about the circumstances of donating.
A message about becoming a donor will then appear in friends' newsfeeds. When friends share their donor status, a Share Your Donor Status link will also show up in newsfeeds. In addition, the site includes a link to learn more about how to register as a donor.
Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has himself signed up to be a donor.
"We never could have anticipated that what started as a small network would evolve into such a powerful tool for communication and problem-solving," Zuckerberg and Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg wrote in a statement. "As this happens, we hope to build tools that help people transform the way we all solve worldwide social problems."
Zuckerberg and Sandberg noted how Facebook also proved useful for other social causes such as allowing people to locate loved ones after the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami.
Although becoming an organ donor could be beneficial and lifesaving, social media tools that push the public to make declarations on personal matters could be a possible turnoff, according to Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.
"While I fully support donating organs, using Facebook to pressure people to do anything may be a very dangerous practice and one that could lead to other far less acceptable behaviors," Enderle told eWEEK in an email. He noted that the trend could lead to people feeling pressured to declare political, sexual or religious preferences in their Facebook profiles.
"It could also create impressions you don't intend like whether you are considering dying at the moment," Enderle added.
An April 17 report by PwC called "Social Media 'Likes' Healthcare: From Marketing to Social Business" revealed that consumers are ahead of health care providers in adopting popular social media tools, and the Facebook initiative could be an example.
According to the survey, one in three consumers used social media tools, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and online forums, to share their medical symptoms and views on doctors, medication, treatments, medical devices and health insurance.
In addition to organ status, the new Health & Wellness section on Facebook timelines allows members to share if they've overcome an illness or quit a habit, such as smoking or drinking. They can also share news on eating habits and dieting, such as if they've become vegetarian or shed pounds. Members can even share when they've broken a bone or undergone cataract eye surgery.