I’m an organ donor but it was a very hard decision for me to make. I’m not a fan of surgery and the idea that stuff would be taken out of my body even after I was dead set up an unreasonable fear of pain. I came around to the idea that at least part of me might continue on and do some good after I was gone but this wasn’t an easy decision. I imagine that, even though there is a shortage of organs, that others struggle with this decision and either put it off or never provide the needed approval and people that could be saved aren’t as a result.
That makes the Facebook news of a donor button interesting because it appears Facebook is driving organ donations and social networking tools should be excellent at both creating peer pressure, and in providing status rewards for good behavior, making that behavior more common. We can be motivated to do both good and bad things by groups.
However, while some of the folks I’m talking to clearly wonder if Facebook is doing this because they care or because they are just doing some needed image work prior to what is starting to look like a troubled IPO. I’m wondering if we shouldn’t use this as a reminder to think about what we share on one of these social networks.
The Power of the Group:
Hard wired into us is the need to conform to groups and motivation tied to social status. You can see the positive side of this in political call to action events, the recent Cash Mob trend, and when a community comes together (see Community Action) to help one of their own. You can see the negative side of this during riots or rallies that get out of hand, trolling on the web, and harmful hazing rituals.
No tool is just god or bad, in fact it typically isn’t the tool that is good or evil; it is how the tool is used. Social Networks have been used to bully children to suicide and they have also been used to rally people around a cause.
But whatever the use of the tool people do need to be aware that it is by nature manipulative and both status and peer pressure can get you to do things that you might not truly agree with.
An increasing practice of reporting what you are doing with regard to your body to a networked group could result in unwanted behavior. People could be motivated to speak out against your activity, bring the activity to the attention of your employer either spitefully, or because they want your job. Or it could result in pressure for you to do either more things or undo what you had reported you had done. It also would make it far harder to change your mind at some future point because people would note the change and likely be critical of it.
In the case of the Donor Button itself, I can think of only three relatively minor issues. Parents, relatives, or employers who disagree with the practice finding out about it, people wondering if you are dying or in poor health yourself, or someone outing your for prior behavior that might invalidate you as a donor.
The advantage of creating a peer driven wave of donors that could save thousands of lives would seem to offset these comparatively minor negatives. However, things tend to progress and a Donor Button today could be a stop smoking button, a celibacy button, a diet button, or a sexual preference button tomorrow.
Once you start opening the door to your private life it can be very hard to close it and this means that the use of a feature like this in a public forum needs to be deeply considered This is not just for what it does, but for the trend it might create so that you are prepared to say “no” against peer and social pressure the next.
You see once you get in the habit of moving with social pressure, if you don’t consider the full implications, you may not say “no” when you need to and the consequences of sharing, or of having one of your children share, such personal information could be dire.
Wrapping Up: The Danger of Social Networks
Social Networks are a great way to stay in touch with lots of people but they also are powerful tools to drive behavior. Being aware of that and knowing when to resist such pressure will likely separate those that enjoy these tools from those that are victims of them. You have to consider whether large numbers of people have the right to know things about your personal life and if you want to share them early. Because once you have shared them there is no do-over, that part of your life is forever public and that could limit your access to job opportunities, educational institutions, medical trials, and even future spouses.
I think everyone should sign a donor card, but I wonder if everyone else needs to know you did it. Even so you may want to start thinking about how you’ll say no to that next public announcement of a personal choice.
Or, put another way, it would probably wise to think through that line you don’t want to cross before you cross it, because there is no going back.
President and Principal Analyst, Enderle Group
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