WASHINGTON - Facebook on Tuesday unveiled an initiative to use the vast social network to help connect organ donors with people who need life-saving transplants.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced the initiative and became one of the first Facebook users to sign up to donate on the social network.
Members of Facebook in the United States and Britain can now indicate that they are organ donors on their timelines, and if they are not donors, they can find links to official organ donation registries and instantly enroll.
"Facebook is really about communicating and telling stories," Zuckerberg told ABC News.
"We think that people can really help spread awareness of organ donation and that they want to participate in this to their friends. And that can be a big part of helping solve the crisis that's out there."
Zuckerberg said he was motivated to launch the program by conversations with his girlfriend, who is a medical student, and his friendship with Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, whose life was extended by a liver transplant.
"We want to make it simple," said Zuckerberg. "You just put in the state or country that you're from, so that we can help link you to the official registries."
In the "health and wellness" section of users' timelines, users can list their status as organ donors and explain the decision to their friends, in an effort to raise awareness about the need for donors.
"Today, more than 114,000 people in the United States, and millions more around the globe, are waiting for the heart, kidney or liver transplant that will save their lives," Zuckerberg said in a statement with Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg.
An estimated 18 people die every day from the lack of available organs, according to Donate Life America, a nonprofit alliance that is partnering with Facebook.
"We can't thank Facebook enough for the organization's commitment to helping save lives by encouraging Americans to register as organ, eye and tissue donors... Thousands of lives will be saved or healed as a result of this initiative," said David Fleming, president and chief executive of Donate Life America.
"We want to encourage every Facebook user to take a moment and update their timeline, register to be a donor, and share their decision with family and friends. It is a simple way to provide hope for those in need."