SAN FRANCISCO – Facebook Inc. knows how much influence its news feed can have on members’ behavior, and the social network is using that clout to fight Ebola.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg donated $25 million last month to fight the spread of the disease. Now, Facebook is asking users in more than 30 countries to donate to Ebola aid efforts by the Red Cross, Save the Children and the International Medical Corps, by prompting them with a button at the top of news feeds.
U.S. President Barack Obama asked Congress for $6.2 billion in emergency funding Thursday to combat the spread of Ebola and reduce risks for U.S. citizens following an outbreak that has infected more than 13,000 people and killed about 5,000, mostly in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
Facebook is increasingly using valuable real estate at the top of the feed to act on issues it deems important. The company has also used the feed to solicit donations during natural disasters.
“When people see their friends doing an action, that will generate feed stories and that will have a multiplying effect on the action,” said Naomi Gleit, Facebook’s vice president of product management. Ebola is “something that Mark (Zuckerberg) cares about, that Facebook cares about, and we’re doing it now because it’s time-sensitive.”
Facebook has studied its ability to change the behavior of more than 1.3 billion users, and in some cases experimented without people’s permission. The company faced criticism in June over a mood experiment it conducted in 2012. Last month, the company said it would be more transparent.
Facebook’s efforts on Ebola are a recognition of the influence the company knows it has. This summer, the ALS ice bucket challenge went viral and drew 10 billion video views on the network, without any prompting by the company.
Ebola has drawn only a fraction of the donations that major earthquakes in Haiti and Japan did in recent years, the International Medical Corps said. Facebook also sent employees to Ghana, where they are coordinating efforts to increase Internet connectivity in the affected countries and spread information about care.