Facebook Fights Ebola With Donate Button Atop Feed, Free Internet For Aid Workers In Africa

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Mark Zuckerberg donated $25 million to fight Ebola, and now Facebook’s using its unique reach to combat the disease. Today it will show a “Donate” button for three West African medical charities at the top of the News Feed in 30 countries including the US. You can donate here.

Facebook will pay for Feed ads promoting UNICEF posts of Ebola safety info in affected regions. And Facebook will donate 100 satellite Internet hotspots via NetHope to medical facilities and NGOs in remote areas of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. These will let aid workers and patients use voice and web connectivity to battle Ebola and stay in touch with loved ones.

With an international user base of 1.35 billion, the world’s problems are Facebook’s problems too. But not because a global epidemic would hurt ad revenues. Because if Facebook wants to be more than just an app and truly become a foundational utility of the modern era, it can’t just operate like a for-profit company. It must be a citizen of this planet too.

messageWhen I asked Naomi Gleit, Facebook’s VP of product management and lead on the project if there was any business or growth objective, she flatly responded, “None. No. Really, our intention is to help stop Ebola. Full-stop.” And she sure sounded like she meant it.

[Update: Mark Zuckerberg has posted a videoabout Facebook’s Fight Ebola project]

Facebook’s lent a hand in times of crisis past. It originally built the Donate button and promoted it atop the News Feed to bring money to the Red Cross’ efforts to alleviate suffering after Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines. It lets users make a donation with their credit card in-line without leaving the site. Later, it equipped 19 partner non-profits with the ability to post the button to the News Feed. Then last month it launched Safety Check, a tool it shows in areas struck by natural disasters or other catastrophes to easily let people notify their friends and family that they’re okay.

Facebook doesn’t always have to plan the way it helps. 440 million people racked up 10 billion video views of ALS Ice Bucket Challenge videos. The site’s also been used to find bone marrow donors and more.

But in the case of Ebola, the world needed a nudge. The American Red Cross raised $486 million for Haiti earthquake relief in 2010, and $87 million to help victims of Typhoon Haiyan, but it’s only raised $3.7 million to fight Ebola. Yet there are over 13,000 cases of Ebola, and many more people need screening or prevention help. Save the Children estimates 10 million children are at risk, and 3,700 have already been orphaned.

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So Facebook felt it needed to step in. The Donate buttons will let users decide whether to provide funds to the International Medical Corps, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and Save the Children. If you had to choose, Charity Navigator’s review process that assess whether non-profits are low-overhead and accomplish their goals rated Save The Children four out of four stars, while the Red Cross and International Medical Corps scored three stars.

If people don’t want Facebook to keep their credit card info, which could be useful for the company’s forays into payments and ecommerce, they can remove the info afterwards. Some thought the Typhoon Haiyan Donate button was just a ploy to score more credit card numbers, but Gleit tells me Facebook is working on a way to let people opt to automatically have their credit card info removed after they donate. She tells me it’d much rather have Ebola donations than payment info on file.

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The mobile satellite Internet terminals could encourage more first-responders and medics to make the tough decision to visit West Africa to help fight Ebola, Facebook’s Head of Spectrum Policy and Connectivity Planning Chris Weasler tells me. If they know they’ll be able to stay in contact with family and friends at home, Daniels says “hopefully it will make it easier to make the courageous decision to go help with the needs of the region.” Patients in isolation will also have access, which could keep their spirits up.

“I see this as an extension of the mission to make the world more open and connected” Gleit tells me, regarding Facebook’s Fight Ebola project. “The reason the mission matters to me is because together we can do great things. Personally, I was really inspired by the ALS Challenge. That’s the kind of great thing that can happen on Facebook…and we want to do even more.”

Visit Facebook’s Fight Ebola page to donate