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Overwhelmed by how to help with Ebola? Mark Zuckerberg makes it easy


November 11, 2014

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    Mark Zuckerberg gave $25 million to fight Ebola, and now he's making it easy for Facebook users to do it, too.
     As of Friday, Facebook embedded an Ebola donation button at the top of news feeds with a prompt giving Facebookers the option to donate to three Ebola-fighting charities: International Medical Corps; the Red Cross; and Save the Children. The button will appear on the social networking site for a about a week, according to Facebook's newsroom.
    Facebook wants to support international relief agencies that raise funds on the site, and "amplify these calls for action and help organizations raise awareness and connect with people around the world," according to a statement.
     The fight against Ebola can use a boost. Despite Ebola's saturation in the news, and a certain amount of hysteria about the disease, some groups say they haven't received as many donations as they would expect or need, especially from wealthy countries.
    Experts have several theories as to why worldwide concern hasn't produced an outpouring of relief money.
    Psychologist Paul Slovic from the University of Oregon told NPR that that the reason might have to do with something in our brain that makes us want to help one person but not millions of people. The Ebola virus has already killed 5,000 people, infected twice that number and could infect millions in West Africa in the next 12 months without quick, effective interventions.
    In one of his studies, Slovic told subjects about a young girl suffering from hunger and measured how much they were willing to donate to her. He gave another group the same story about the girl, but also told them about millions of others suffering from hunger.
    The result?
    "People who were shown the statistics along with the information about the little girl gave about half as much money as those who just saw the little girl," said Slovic.
     A story about an individual child speaks to our heart and affects us emotionally.
     "But a million people in need speaks to our head," he said. "As the numbers grow, we sort of lose the emotional connection to the people who are in need."
     Furthermore, additional studies showed that people's willingness to act has to do with "efficacy." People want to help one little girl because it makes them feel good. Not being able to help a lot of people makes them feel bad.
    The epidemic might "trigger feelings of hopelessness," he said, canceling out the happy glow of giving and might make people less generous.
     Another theory has to do with the slow-build nature of epidemics, that might make people less quick to act, as opposed to natural disasters, that happen suddenly and jolt people into action.
    Four major U.S. aid organizations told CNNMoney that they have received a total of $19.5 million to date, most of which came from foundations — not individuals. In contrast, charities received double that in just one week after Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines last year, and 1.3 billion was raised within six months of the Haiti earthquake.
     Numbers from the America Red Cross put the gap into perspective: It raised $486 million in response to Haiti. For Ebola? Just $100,000 so far from individuals.
     Red Cross spokeswoman Jana Sweeny told CNN money that there's not enough interest in Ebola to even launch a text campaign or a button for their homepage.
     Perhaps Facebook's donation button will help fill the gap, which, if nothing else, has incredible reach to the network's 1.3 billion users. The ask is simple: "You can help stop Ebola," it reads, calling the user by name.     "Donate to organizations working in West Africa so they can save lives and stop the outbreak."
     "With a lot of events, we see an influx in phone calls and emails to our public inquiry line about how they can help," Sweeny said. "We just haven't seen it this time."


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