Facebook Launches Organ-Donation Tool

This morning’s big announcement by Facebook Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg on ABC News’ “Good Morning America” involves organ donation.

This morning’s big announcement by Facebook Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg on ABC News’ “Good Morning America” involves organ donation.

“GMA” anchor Robin Roberts, sporting a hoodie for the occasion, spoke with Zuckerberg at Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., announcing that users of the social network in the U.S. and U.K. can indicate that they are organ donors in the health and wellness section on their timelines.

Those users who are not already organ donors but interested in investigating the option will find links to official organ-donation registries.

Zuckerberg told Roberts the idea was spawned by dinner conversations with his girlfriend, Priscilla Chan, who is a medical student, as well as by his friendship with late Apple Founder Steve Jobs, who succumbed to liver cancer last October, but who survived for years thanks to a liver transplant.

Zuckerberg told Roberts:

Facebook is really about communicating and telling stories. We think that people can really help spread awareness of organ donation, and that they want to participate in this with their friends. And that can be a big part of helping solve the crisis that’s out there.

We want to make it simple. You just put in the state or country that you’re from, so that we can help link you to the official registries.

People are using the same social tools that they’re using just to keep in touch with people on a day-to-day basis to solve these important issues.

Even if this doesn’t touch everyone, I hope this can make a real impact.

Speaking about Chan, Zuckerberg said she told him stories about patients she meets “getting sicker as they don’t have the organ that they need,” mentioning one about a boy who needed a heart transplant, and whose skin had turned blue due to lack of oxygen, saying that within weeks of the transplant, the boy was playing sports.

He joked about his unsuccessful attempt to learn Mandarin Chinese in one year, saying he was at least able to converse with Chan’s elderly grandmother, and said of his girlfriend:

She’s in medical school now. She’s going to be a pediatrician, so our dinner conversations are often about Facebook and the kids that she’s meeting.

On the subject of Jobs, he told Roberts the passing of his friend inspired him to add the donation tool to Facebook, adding that he and Jobs never specifically discussed the project, and saying:

That definitely, I think, was something that we all had in mind as we were building this out … His story is just one of many, of people who both were able to have an organ transplant that made his life longer, and he was extremely thankful for that.

Dr. Andrew Cameron, transplant surgeon at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, told ABC News:

I think it’s possible that we will see an impact over the next couple of years, where we would imagine eliminating the transplant waiting list.

Naturally, Roberts asked about Facebook’s upcoming initial public offering, and while Zuckerberg cited the government-mandated quiet period, he did say:

We try to keep very focused on the long term…We’ll be judged by how good the things are that we build and whether people like them.

When you’re public, there are rules for how you report stuff, so we’ll just do that.

And at one point, Roberts pointed to a large graffiti mural on a wall in Facebook’s headquarters that said “hack,” and asked Zuckerberg about the negative connotations of that word. He replied:

The real hacker spirit is about building stuff, continuous improvement.

On tonight’s edition of “World News with Diane Sawyer,” Sandberg will sit down for an exclusive interview with Sawyer, during which she will discuss the personal stories behind the social network’s new initiative and what Facebook hopes to accomplish.

Zuckerberg and Sandberg released the following announcement via ABC News:

Facebook is about connecting and sharing — connecting with your friends, family, and communities, and sharing information with them about your life, work, school, and interests. On any given day, more than half a billion people share billions of stories, updates, and photos.

What has amazed us over the past eight years is how people use these same tools and social dynamics to address important issues and challenges in their communities. Last year in Missouri, Facebook users tracked down and returned treasured mementos to families who thought they’d lost everything in the Joplin tornado. In Japan, people used Facebook to locate family and friends following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Smaller acts of kindness happen millions of times a day on Facebook.

We never could have anticipated that what started as a small network would evolve into such a powerful tool for communication and problem solving. As this happens, we hope to build tools that help people transform the way we all solve worldwide social problems.

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.

Starting today, you can add that you’re an organ donor to your timeline, and share your story about when, where, or why you decided to become a donor. If you’re not already registered with your state or national registry and want to be, you’ll find a link to the official donor registry there, as well.

Click here to see how it works.

Facebook’s mission is simple: to make the world more open and connected. But the Facebook community has also shown us that simply through sharing and connecting, the world gets smaller and better. Even one individual can have an outsized impact on the challenges facing another, and on the world. At Facebook, we call that the power of friends.

david.cohen@adweek.com David Cohen is editor of Adweek's Social Pro Daily.