The Problems With the Ice Bucket Challenge

By now you’ve probably seen videos of people having buckets of ice dumped on their heads, be it on the news, on Twitter or on Facebook. The challenge is part of an effort to raise awareness for the ALS Foundation. The challenge is fairly simple: Someone has a bucket of ice dumped on their head and then challenges three other people to have ice dumped on them. The process is then repeated. Get ice dumped on you, challenge three more people. The catch is if you don’t participate in the challenge you then have to donate $100 to the ALS Foundation.

Right there is the first problem with this challenge as it frames donating money to the ALS Foundation as a punishment. It essentially says, “Oh, you don’t want to have ice dumped on you? Guess you’re chicken. Guess you’ll have to donate $100 to the ALS Foundation.”

However the ALS Foundation did issue a press release calling recent donations to the group as a result of the ice bucket challenge “unprecedented.” This is good to see even if the way you are urged to donate money is framed oddly. It could also mean enough people getting ice dumped on them are saying, “Hey, this is for the ALS Foundation,” leading people to then look into the group and what ALS is and then give money.

The challenge has led to a variety of people having ice dumped on them. Conan O’Brien, Matt Lauer and Ethel Kennedy have had ice dumped on them. Maybe you’ve seen your local meteorologist participate in the challenge or your best friend from high school do the same as well. Even President Barack Obama was challenged to participate, although he chose to donate $100.

The scope of people participating in the challenge certainly seems to be very large, but at the same time there are people on social media who are participating in the challenge and not mentioning the part about the ALS Foundation. As a result the true purpose of the challenge can be lost and it seems it is starting to be lost.

The troubling part of the challenge is still the fact that it is framed as “Have ice dumped on you or donate money.” As a result people participating in the challenge can come off as “I would rather have ice dumped on me than donate to a charity that has a really good purpose.”

Although the ice bucket challenge is proving to be great for the ALS Foundation since they’ve seen a huge increase in donations, it might be time for groups to rethink using viral content for good causes. Often the efforts seem to be misguided–remember that time you were supposed to post your bra color on Facebook to raise awareness for breast cancer?–and the purpose gets lost as more people spread it around social media.

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