Late July marked the emergence of the now-worldwide phenomenon, the ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) Association’s “ice bucket challenge.” Though the numbers might point to a win for the 30,000 suffering from ALS, there are many consequences ignored by the public, most notably insincere activism that does little to promote awareness through education.
The origin of the challenge remains foggy. Various sources report different beginnings, but the current significance remains clear — to raise awareness for a debilitating disease that diminishes muscle movement due to motor neuron degeneration. Those who accept the challenge douse themselves in icy water (hence the challenge’s name) and nominate others, who have 24 hours to complete the dare. Those who fail to carry out the challenge are supposed to donate to the ALSA. This freezing philanthropic phenomenon has reached $70.2 million in donations, according to statistics released by the ALSA on Aug. 24.
The challenge’s magnetism, powered by social media, lies in the fact that everyone can get involved — the participants are not just celebrities with large fan bases. It is, however, unsettling that good deeds have to be documented and broadcast for the world to see. Social media platforms are generally superficial, decorated with pictures and posts of highlights, skipping over the low points — this is a result of the ability to self-publish. In terms of the ice bucket challenge, altruism is “seen as a badge of honor,” according to Greg Cash, communications director for the ALSA. This type of insincere activism is known as “slacktivism,” or being part of something just for the sake of it. So, in actuality, the ice bucket challenge proves the power of social media rather than the sincerity and generosity of the public.
As the challenge takes the world by storm, simultaneously proving Kevin Bacon’s theory of six degrees of separation, people have refrained from even mentioning ALS and what it is, going straight to dumping the ice bucket over their heads and nominating their friends. Celebrities such as Selena Gomez and Justin Bieber have only reinforced their social media presence, failing to educate their millions of fans about the disease.
Awareness stems from education, not association of the disease with a certain fad. It would be more responsible for participants to teach their audience about how the disease affects the suffering, or better yet, how their donations are being used to combat the disease.
The challenge has collected millions of dollars for one specific disease, but there are countless other organizations out there working to demolish other diseases that deserve just as much attention. Choosing which disease or cause to support should be based on personal values; important causes range from ALS to anti-bullying to poverty. Donating just to fit in, however, is irresponsible.
The challenge has not only detracted attention from other organizations that need the devotion that ALS is receiving right now, but also left out the primary purpose behind raising these funds. The main key is to educate—not solely to dump a bucket of ice water over your head.
Danni Wang is a sophomore majoring in psychology. “Point/Counterpoint” runs Tuesdays.