Bringing a new meaning to the expression “a friend in need,” Facebook wants its users and their friends to consider becoming organ donors.
On Tuesday, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg and chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg released a joint statement announcing a new feature. Users in the U.S. and the U.K. can now add a new post to their Timelines, the individual chronological life histories on the website, indicating when they decided to register as an organ donor.
The new feature can be found in the “Life Event” tab at the top of a user’s profile page, located immediately below the “About” section.
After clicking “Life Event,” a user can choose between five categories. Clicking “Health and Wellness,” the user can see a list of options to add to their Timeline, and “Organ donor” is at the top. Clicking it, a user can choose to share with specific groups of Friends or the public at large that he or she has registered.
If a user isn’t yet a registered organ donor or would like to become one, Facebook has also attached a database to the tool directing users to their official local registry.
See step-by-step instructions from Facebook in the following video:
Zuckerberg did the full press treatment to promote the new feature, appearing on ABC News’ “Good Morning America” on Monday to explain how the idea for a specific “organ donor” Facebook status came about in the first place.
Specifically, Zuckerberg said that it was dinner conversations he had with his longtime girlfriend, Priscilla Chan, a medical school student at the University of California San Francisco.
“She’s in medical school now,” Zuckerberg said, ABC News reported. “She’s going to be a pediatrician, so our dinner conversations are often about Facebook and the kids that she’s meeting.”
Zuckerberg told told ABC News that one story in particular, about a boy in need of a heart transplant who received a successful operation and was able to return to playing sports within weeks helped inspire the new venture.
The Facebook founder also said that the successful liver transplant Steve Jobs received in 2009 also contributed to Facebook’s new effort to promote users’ organ donation registrations.
A Facebook spokesperson told TPM that the company hopes that users who see their Friends signing up to become organ donors will consider doing so themselves. Users can click on their friends’ organ donor status updates to start the process for themselves.
But a Facebook spokesperson also told TPM that the website isn’t actually verifying who has registered to become an organ donor and who is not.
“Clicking this box means the user has stated an intention to become an organ donor - but has not officially registered as an organ donor,” A Facebook spokesperson told TPM of the new feature. “Within the organ donor tool, users will also be prompted to officially register with their national or state registry or authority, as appropriate. A Facebook user has not officially become an organ donor unless they have registered via their state’s donor registry page.”
Facebook said that before launching the feature, it consulted with Donate Life, a national U.S. nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing organ donations across the country. Currently, Donate Life counts 113,115 patients awaiting organ donations, as of March 2011.
“We can’t thank Facebook enough for the organization’s commitment to helping save lives by encouraging Americans to register as organ, eye and tissue donors…Thousands of lives will be saved or healed as a result of this initiative,” said David Fleming, President and CEO of Donate Life America, in a statement posted on the Donate Life website on Tuesday. “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. It is a simple way to provide hope for those in need.”
ESPN, which like ABC, is owned by Disney, will also be airing two feature stories on SportsCenter on Tuesday to promote organ donation as part of the effort.