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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Theresa May is paying the price for mismanaging Boris Johnson

The Foreign Secretary's bruised ego may end up destroying Theresa May. 

And to think that Theresa May scheduled her big speech for this Friday to make sure that Conservative party conference wouldn’t be dominated by the matter of Brexit. Now, thanks to Boris Johnson, it won’t just be her conference, but Labour’s, which is overshadowed by Brexit in general and Tory in-fighting in particular. (One imagines that the Labour leadership will find a way to cope somehow.)

May is paying the price for mismanaging Johnson during her period of political hegemony after she became leader. After he was betrayed by Michael Gove and lacking any particular faction in the parliamentary party, she brought him back from the brink of political death by making him Foreign Secretary, but also used her strength and his weakness to shrink his empire.

The Foreign Office had its responsibility for negotiating Brexit hived off to the newly-created Department for Exiting the European Union (Dexeu) and for navigating post-Brexit trade deals to the Department of International Trade. Johnson was given control of one of the great offices of state, but with no responsibility at all for the greatest foreign policy challenge since the Second World War.

Adding to his discomfort, the new Foreign Secretary was regularly the subject of jokes from the Prime Minister and cabinet colleagues. May likened him to a dog that had to be put down. Philip Hammond quipped about him during his joke-fuelled 2017 Budget. All of which gave Johnson’s allies the impression that Johnson-hunting was a licensed sport as far as Downing Street was concerned. He was then shut out of the election campaign and has continued to be a marginalised figure even as the disappointing election result forced May to involve the wider cabinet in policymaking.

His sense of exclusion from the discussions around May’s Florence speech only added to his sense of isolation. May forgot that if you aren’t going to kill, don’t wound: now, thanks to her lost majority, she can’t afford to put any of the Brexiteers out in the cold, and Johnson is once again where he wants to be: centre-stage. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.