Facebook's healthy effects

West Lafayette, Indiana - A Purdue University health communication expert says a Facebook effort to encourage people to register for organ donation is admirable. But it won't work.

"While it's great to see people supporting registration, social media is not a cure-all for changing people's behaviors," says Susan Morgan, a professor of health communication who studies organ donor recruiting. "It looks easy compared to rounding up volunteers or grassroots communication efforts, but if social media were that powerful we would see more changes and a greater increase in donor registrations. It's a negligible effect that generates some excitement.

"We know that inspiring people to act comes from smart campaigning tailored to specific audiences, and removing barriers that keep people from living healthy, or in this case, registering to be organ donors."

The initiative, "Share Your Organ Donor" status, is a Facebook feature people can use to affirm they are organ donors, as well as connect them to online resources to register.

While Facebook and other social media can play a role in health education, it should not be a substitute, says Morgan whose research in health campaign effectiveness specific to organ donation has received more than $6 million in research funding. Her successful campaign strategies on organ donation have included creating local education efforts through worksites and drivers license bureaus.

"Facebook is powerful, and it is great to see the focus on registering to be an organ donor, but how does posting lead to action?" Morgan asks. "Its reach to millions of Americans is appealing, but we need to remember change is on a more personal and individual level."

Morgan does see social media playing a role in reducing the stigma or misinformation about illness and health conditions.

"When you are connected by Facebook friends or the Twitter community, there are often people posting who have a wealth of information about health conditions or social issues, such as fat shaming or how autistic children behave in public," she says. "Users absorb this information as they see it through someone's eyes. When you don't understand something you keep it at arm's length, but Facebook makes it easy for your friends to educate you. This is helpful, but health communicators and educators need to focus on the next step - how to motivate people to act."

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