Facebook commits to the fight against Ebola
Facebook has thrown itself into the fight against Ebola.
The company announced today that users can donate to groups working in Ebola-affected regions through its service. The company will also provide medical information from UNICEF to users in specific areas, and join with other companies to donate 100 satellite communication terminals to give workers wireless service in remote areas of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.
Perhaps the most visible aspect of these efforts to Facebook users in the United States will be a message prompting them to donate to organizations like the International Medical Corps, Save the Children, and the American Red Cross. (Hopefully people will consider ProPublica's exposé of the Red Cross' response to Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Isaac before giving to the group.)
Facebook's other efforts will lend more direct aid to people living in the regions most affected by Ebola's spread. Tech can't save the world on its own -- nothing can -- but it can certainly make it easier for people to receive help from the organizations working to combat this virus. As I wrote in response to complaints about a group of "hackers" trying to address Ebola's spread:
I don’t think anyone would argue that software alone can help manage the Ebola crisis. It’s not like the virus is going to halt its spread just because everyone it might possibly infect has a new app on their phone. Anyone who does think this way might want to remove themselves from the insular bubble of technology, particular if they’re in a country that doesn’t have the same problems as the countries most affected by Ebola’s spread.
Still, there’s little harm in doing whatever you can to help solve a problem that threatens so many people. Arguing otherwise is like saying that I shouldn’t help someone who suffered an injury to their leg increase the elevation because I don’t have a medical degree or suture kit. You don’t have to solve a problem entirely to help, and that’s what these “hackers” are doing. I reiterated that point when the BBC announced that it would send audio, text message alerts, and photos to people in West Africa via WhatsApp. It isn't about technology working by itself to solve humanity's problems -- it's about technology playing a role in a broader effort that includes help from governments, NGOs, and, yes, corporations.
Now there's one of the world's largest tech companies devoting a not-insignificant amount of resources to help combat Ebola's spread. Even if you don't like Facebook -- as a service or as a company -- it's hard to argue that those efforts aren't going to help at least a little bit.