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Facebook Adds Organ Donation to Timeline: How It Works, Why It’s There

As the biggest social network with over 900 million users, and the most-visited site in the US, it’s not a surprise that Facebook’s announcements gain serious media attention. But what’s all this about organs, and Facebook? Wait, what? Like a lot of the web world, we’ve been talking about why it’s there, what it does, and the potential impacts at our office, and thought we’d share our thoughts plus a little how-to if you want to check it out.

Is it for Publicity or the Greater Good?

Answer: Both. Facebook has been under fire for privacy concerns for a long while, and some critics are already noting how this helps take the spotlight off of Facebook’s use of personal data for advertising purposes.  That’s true, and I can’t argue with that.  I also find it interesting, as many others have noted, that Facebook would choose organ donation, given past privacy questions — anything medical brings up a number of red flags (warning! warning!) and could trigger privacy questions galore. Do you want your friends to know you’re an organ donor, and why? But then again, Facebook is all about sharing, and if sharing that oh-so-cute-puppy picture doesn’t make the world a better place, this might.

Facebook's New Organ Donor Timeline Option

That’s not to say that Facebook hasn’t been used for good before — it has.  The company’s press release specifically notes how users helped people after the Joplin tornado in Missouri, and in Japan following the earthquake and tsunami. It seems that Facebook has some lofty goals, as they follow those observations up with: “we hope to build tools that help people transform the way we all solve worldwide social problems.”

So… let’s think about that for a second. That’s really great, right? Using Facebook to solve the world’s social problems. Again, I can’t argue with that. But even this can be seen as a marketing or positioning statement — Facebook can be THE hub. That’s more Facebook users, more Facebook interactions, more Facebook advertising dollars — just more Facebook. Then again, is that a bad thing? I’ll leave that to you.

One thing is for certain — organ donation awareness and registration could use some help. From Facebook:

Today, more than 114,000 people in the United States, and millions more around the globe, are waiting for the heart, kidney or liver transplant that will save their lives. Many of those people – an average of 18 people per day – will die waiting, because there simply aren’t enough organ donors to meet the need. Medical experts believe that broader awareness about organ donation could go a long way toward solving this crisis. And we believe that by simply telling people that you’re an organ donor, the power of sharing and connection can play an important role.

If the number-one most visited website can help fix this, or at least highlight it, then that’s a good thing, right?! I understand the talk about publicity, and I think it’s important to address that. I also think this relatively small change has the possibility to do a lot of good.

How Does it Actually Work?

As the video below explains, it’s easy to designate yourself as an organ donor.

  • Go to your Timeline
  • click “Life Event,” then “Health & Wellness”
  • See the option for “Organ Donor?” Here you can share the details — when and where you registered, and your personal story as to why.

Facebook’s overview:

The Takeaway.

If Facebook can add a simple feature that might save lives, enabling people to opt-in and more prominently share information they could anyway, why not support it? I think the personal story of why people are organ donors will be inspiring, and by providing links out to donor registries, it not only highlights a problem but provides an option for people to take an action. Just the announcement has already generated more buzz about organ donations. Of course the long term question (which Mashable has already created a poll to address) is whether this will impact organ donor registrations.

What do you think? Will registrations increase? Is this a move to help humanity, or just to generate some positive PR? And do you care?

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