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Facebook campaigns have the power to 'dramatically boost' organ donation

A campaign in the US last year resulted in a 21-fold increase in registration.

Image: Heart via Shutterstock

RESEARCHERS HAVE FOUND that social media like Facebook can dramatically increase the number of organ donor registrations.

A study by Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine revealed a 21-fold boost in the number of people registering in one day after a social media push, suggesting it may be an effective tool to address organ shortages in some countries.

The gains were made in May last year when the social-networking giant Facebook created a way for users to share their organ donor status with friends and provided easy links to make their status official on state department of motor vehicle websites. The findings are being published in the American Journal of Transplantation.

Leader of the study, Andrew M Cameron, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins said that the short-term response was “incredibly dramatic” and unlike anything researchers had ever seen before in campaigns to increase donation rate.

Sharing

By looking at data from Facebook and online motor vehicle registration websites, the researchers found that on 1 May 2012, the day the initiative began, 57,451 Facebook users updated their profiles to share their organ donor status.

There were 13,012 new online donor registrations on the first day, representing a 21.2-fold increase over the average daily registration rate of 616 nationwide. Registrations varied by state, with the first-day effect in Michigan rising nearly seven-fold and with nearly 109 times as many online registrations in Georgia as on a typical day.

Cameron said it was “heartening” to see that the states of New York and Texas, where organ donation rates are among the lowest, had some of the biggest bumps on that first day.

‘Powerful, lasting effect’

While the number of online registrations dropped over the following 12 days, Cameron says it was still twice the normal rate at the end of that study period.

“The half-life of a movement online is often just hours,” he says. “This had a very powerful, lasting effect. But we need to find a way to keep the conversation going.”

Though the number of declared organ donors increased, it could now be decades before researchers determine whether those people ultimately donate their organs.

Going forward, Cameron said that the key to continuing the push for more donors is figuring out a way to bring back some of the lost attention of those early days of the campaign and to find a way to get it to again go viral.

He added that he has spoken to Facebook officials who are discussing relaunching it on its mobile platform, changing its prominence on the Web version or even offering incentives, such as coupons, for people who declare they are organ donors.

In Ireland, the total number of people on the Transplant List at the end of last year was 563, an increase of 35 on the previous year.

Read: Campaign to reform Irish organ donation practices spearheaded by GAA pundit Brolly>
Read: World’s first womb transplant woman is pregnant>

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