Facebook encourages 30,000 to become organ donors

A nudge here, an organ there.

Last year, Facebook's Mike Zuckerberg was convinced by his medic student girlfriend that he could be doing more to increase the supply of donated organs. So he started doing more:

The actual change on Facebook's part is small. Starting today, users in the UK and US can go to their timeline, click on "Life Event," select "Health and Wellness," and add the new option "choose Organ Donor"…

If everyone who is an organ donor adds that fact to their profile, then those who aren't may start being aware of it in a way that may cause them to act.

There are a lot of "mays" and "ifs" in that, of course. It's equally possible that no one will update their organ donor status, and the initiative will go unseen. But if Zuckerberg succeeds, it will be one of the largest applications of "nudge theory" to date.

Now, well over a year on, we have our first real indication of how effective that nudge was. In a paper in the American Journal of Transplantation titled "Social Media and Organ Donor Registration: The Facebook Effect", researchers have found that on the first day of the new organ donor initiative, there were 13,054 online registrations to become a donor in the US. That's 21 times as many as there are in a normal day; in one state, Georgia, the increase was well over a hundred times the norm.

What's more, the registration stayed high for almost two weeks after: in total, over 30,000 people more than usual signed up to be organ donors in the first 12 days of the initiative. Since an organ donor can save multiple lives, it might be one of the most cost-effective public health interventions ever recorded. The authors write that:

This initial ‘‘early adopter’’ cohort represents only <0.1 per cent of Facebook users in the United States and yet the immediate impact on donation registration rates in the United States was greater than that seen with prior media campaigns.

What is harder to work out is whether the initiative has any longer-term effects. Once the novelty faded away, were there still more daily registrations than there used to be? It's hard to determine, since any change to the baseline is likely well within the normal fluctuations. But even if there aren't, the one-time effect is valuable enough that Zuckerberg's decision has paid dividends.  

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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The Brexiteers have lost battles but they are still set to win the war

The prospect of the UK avoiding Brexit, or even a “hard” version, remains doubtful. 

Before the general election, the Brexiteers would boast that everything had gone their way. Parliament had voted to trigger Article 50 by a majority of 372. The Treasury-forecast recession hadn't occurred. And polls showed the public backing Brexit by a comfortable margin

But since the Conservatives' electoral humbling, the Leavers have been forced to retreat on multiple fronts. After promising in May that the dispute over the timetable for the Brexit talks would be "the fight of the summer", David Davis capitulated on the first day.

The UK will be forced to settle matters such as EU citizens' rights, the Irish border and the divorce bill before discussions begin on a future relationship. Having previously insisted that a new trade deal could agreed by 29 March 2019 (Britain's scheduled departure date), the Brexiteers have now conceded that this is, in Liam Fox's words, "optimistic" (translation: deluded). 

That means the transitional arrangement the Leavers once resisted is now regarded as inevitable. After the eradication of the Conservatives' majority, the insistence that "no deal is better than a bad deal" is no longer credible. No deal would mean the immediate return of a hard Northern Irish border (to the consternation of the Tories' partners the DUP) and, in a hung parliament, there are no longer the votes required to pursue a radical deregulatory, free market agenda (for the purpose of undercutting the EU). As importantly for the Conservatives, an apocalyptic exit could pave the way for a Jeremy Corbyn premiership (a figure they previously regarded as irretrievably doomed). 

Philip Hammond, emboldened by the humiliation of the Prime Minister who planned to sack him, has today outlined an alternative. After formally departing the EU in 2019, Britain will continue to abide by the rules of the single market and the customs union: the acceptance of free movement, European legal supremacy, continued budget contributions and a prohibition on independent trade deals. Faced with the obstacles described above, even hard Brexiteers such as Liam Fox and Michael Gove have recognised that the game is up.

But though they have lost battles, the Leavers are still set to win the war. There is no parliamentary majority for a second referendum (with the pro-Remain Liberal Democrats still enfeebled), Hammond has conceded that any transitional arrangement would end by June 2022 (the scheduled date of the next election) and most MPs are prepared to accept single market withdrawal. The prospect of Britain avoiding Brexit, or even a "hard" version, remains doubtful. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.