It first came to our attention towards the end of July. First a trickle, then a steady drip, and finally a flood of videos posted to the internet, depicting people being voluntarily drenched in freezing water. We are, of course, talking about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge
The campaign was launched with the aim of raising money and awareness for charities concerning amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or motor neuron disease. The rules of the challenge are simple: you have 24 hours to film yourself having a bucket of ice cold water poured over your head, and post it online. In your video, you must also nominate three other people to do the same, thus beginning the process all over again.
As with any internet phenomenon, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has been the subject of much debate. What sets it apart is that, unlike most of the press regarding social networking sites, the feedback has been largely positive. People from across the globe have taken part; more than two million videos have been uploaded to Facebook alone, and the amount of money that has been raised as a result is staggering.
That isn’t to say that the campaign has been without criticism. There have been claims that the focus on ALS will reduce donations to other charities. Indeed, there even seems to be some confusion surrounding money given to ALS itself, with some saying only those who fail to upload their video within the 24 hour deadline should donate, whilst others maintain it should be everyone involved.
However, it is worth considering whether the problems with the challenge aren’t more integral. How many people, as they prepare themselves for the onslaught of icy water, are thinking of the suffering that ALS causes? Relatively few, perhaps, compared to the number of those more caught up with who they’ll be nominating, or how many likes their video will get. It could be argued that this is unimportant, comparatively speaking, that it is the money and awareness raised that makes the difference, but how long term can the effects of this be? Certainly, many people who three months ago had never heard of ALS have done so now, but will they still be thinking about it in three months time? In which case, surely there is something worrying about attitudes towards the campaign. Although the symptoms can be relieved, it is not yet possible to cure someone of motor neuron disease; sufferers will be affected for the rest of their lives, long after the videos have vanished from our news feeds. Does the challenge trivialise this?
One thing is abundantly clear: the nature of charity fundraising in the 21st century is changing, and it is vital that these questions are asked, in order for it to evolve for the better.