Social Media Saviors

Amit Gupta, a tech entrepreneur recently diagnosed with an acute form of leukaemia, is reaching out to family, friends and strangers to find an appropriate bone marrow donor to help save his life. But he isn’t using the traditional route to search for a request.

Gupta found a way to test the strength, social responsibility and the altruistic character of the online community by asking social network users to contribute to his life-saving cause.

As an Indian-American, Gupta’s chances of finding a donor are 1 in 20,000, due to the under presentation of South Asians in the US donor registry. Thus reaching out to anyone willing to help across as many social media platforms as possible would hopefully increase his chances of finding a donor.

So far, Gupta has reached an impressive 17,700 on Twitter, 13,000 supporters on Facebook (with 422 subscribers), and a plethora of group support systems on Flickr, Tumblr and several other social media platforms.

With his followers, Gupta began organizing “swab parties,” where people responding to Tweets, Facebook messages and the like met in physical tech centres, including Google and Facebook. At these gatherings, prospective donors swab the inside of their mouths to collect their DNA and the information is sent to a testing lab to be registered in the national bone marrow registry, where they can be called upon at any time a match is found.

But relying on others, particularly strangers, has it’s downfalls. Calling on an  anonymous donor who showed up to your swab party a month earlier may have decided not to donate after all, since there is no personal connection for him/her to you and your situation. While some are more altruistic than others and donate for the sake of a good cause, others may not feel as comfortable with the idea of donating to complete strangers.

On the positive side, the ability for online social activity transcending into the physical realm has proved to be an enabler for turning people’s remote dreams into actual realities. Society has reached a point where we can call on strangers from a distance, even with a sense of urgency. In many ways, we are putting a lot of trust in our community and relying on its ability to lend a helping hand – whether it is to ask your fans to ‘like’ something or to ask your fans to help save your life.

David Hunt, chief medical officer of the national co-ordinator for health technology in the US Department of Health and Human Services, offers perhaps one of the more significant features of social networking:

The wonderful thing about social networking is it can create that sense of trust between elements of communities that have traditionally been relatively marginalised.

The diversity of respondents and the ability to congregate them under one roof (both friends and strangers of different nationalist) – and the speed in which we can do so – is quite remarkable. Before, this might not have even been thought of, and the time to complete such a feat would take a lot longer. But thanks to social media for being, well, social, people of various ages, races and connections all over the world will be asking others to help save their lives, one tweet at a time.

Based on Kate Dailey’s and Matt Danzicoh’s Amit Gupta and the Social Media Search for a Cure.

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