The Ice Bucket Challenge in support of ALS research, which has dominated Facebook's Newsfeed the past few weeks, has captured the attention of many and the ire of some.
The charitable donation effort involves participants dumping a bucket of ice water on their heads or donating to the ALS Association. In turn, the participant challenges three friends to donate money to the association or dump a bucket of ice water on their heads within 24 hours.
The challenge, completed by tens of thousands of people over the last few weeks including famous celebrities and entrepreneurs such as Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, Justin Timberlake, and Mark Zuckerberg, has become a huge viral hit raising awareness and donations for ALS research.
Not unexpectedly, the campaign has also seen the wrath of critics who claim that the campaign has done little to support the cause other than to get people talking about it. Ben Kosinski, a Huffington Post blogger and founder of Sumpto, suggested that the campaign is based on "slacktivism," which isn't helping at all.
"Slacktivism is a relatively new term with only negative connotations being associated with it as of recently. The whole thinking is that instead of actually donating money, you're attributing your time and a social post in place of that donation. Basically, instead of donating $10 to Charity XYZ, slacktivism would have you create a Facebook Post about how much you care about Charity XYZ- generating immediate and heightened awareness but lacking any actual donations and long term impact."
In response to the ice bucket challenge from friends, some have chosen to post videos explaining what ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, is and how it affects those who suffer from it. Included in those public service announcements were either overt or subtle disdain for the water-dumping activity, suggesting that it has become a social carnival instead of a social good effort.
Others have created memes that feature malnourished children in developing countries with text such as: "So you're telling me that you're dumping good clean water to avoid donating money to a good cause?"A summary of the criticisms:
- The campaign has done little for ALS other than to get people to talk about the campaign
- People are given the choice to perform an activity so they don't have to donate money
- The campaign is short-term in nature and will not survive past a few months
- The challenge has become more about the activity itself and less about people raising awareness and funds for ALS
Yes, many people, including yours truly, have made quite the production out of the ice bucket challenge. In fact, the volume of online videos and posts is so great that there are now blooper videos of challenges-gone-bad and blog posts featuring compilations of the best and worst of celebrity challenges.
Yes, the campaign will fizzle out when people get sick of seeing the spectacle or when everyone they know has been challenged.
Yes, in some cases people have done the challenge out of vanity and wanting to be part of the crowd, not for a genuine concern for those suffering from ALS.
On the other hand, the reality is that many who have completed the challenge have also donated to the cause. Those who have completed the task without donating have, through their online videos, raised awareness and encouraged others to donate.
The proof is in the pudding: As of Tuesday, August 19th, 2014 the ALS Association has credited the viral campaign for raising $23 million in donations. To put that in context, during the same period last year, the association raised only $50,000. This activity may not be sustainable over a long period of time but the money raised, if invested and used wisely, will provide a tremendous lift to those seeking a cure.
In my book, that's a win-win for the association, the research they are funding, and for all those suffering from this terrible, debilitating disease.