The April 2024 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

Close bar

Facebook Engineers Organ Donation

Facebook's new organ donation status may put peer pressure to good use

2 min read

Facebook Engineers Organ Donation

Social networking attempts to become social engineering with Facebook’s newest option: organ donor status. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg introduced the option with a release Tuesday morning, “Friends Saving Lives.”

The premise is that just having the option will prompt users to become organ donors. Or the status might provide insight into a patient’s wishes for family members faced with the uncomfortable decision of whether to donate someone else' organs.

To change organ donation status, users can add a life event to their timelines. The box for organ donation is listed under Health & Wellness. Like all Facebook updates, it can be hidden with privacy settings or shared. The engineering kicks in with a link in life event box, inviting the user to officially register as a donor. The link transports users to Donate Life America’s Facebook page: an easy to use map to find each states' official registry website. 

Simply bringing attention the option will increase the number of donors, says BJ Fogg, who runs the Persuasive Technologies Lab at Stanford, The New York Times reports. It “will trigger people to make an important decision about whether to be an organ donor, a decision most people in the last year haven’t even considered,” Fogg says.

Many countries, especially those in the European Union, have “opt-out” programs, in which donation is assumed and residents must choose to not donate. But the United States has an “opt-in” system. Americans only become donors through conscious choice and deliberate registration. As of today, there are 114 183 people on the U.S. waitlist, according to the U.S. Department of Health, with about 18 of those patients dying a day. One organ donor could save up to eight people, it claims.

And Facebook may actually be able to make a difference, experts say.

“If you see all your friends do it, or have the illusion all your friends are doing it, it sets up an expectation of sorts and it may become a social norm,” Fog says.

It’s peer pressure put to good medical use.

The Conversation (0)