There are a lot of laughs, some self-deprecating humor, some general silliness. This is in stark contrast to the progressive and insidious disease itself. For a national single disease fundraising operation, summer is a slow time – anything additional will impact the overall budget. That’s why linking a summertime activity outdoors really works – and it’s frankly a contrast to the more labor intense biking, walking, and running events that require sponsorships and a major commitment of time. There’s something more authentic about the Ice Bucket Challenge than about some of the big media campaigns and celebrity themed events for charity. There’s not much planning. It feels organic and thin, like no advertising agency had a piece of the planning.
There are a lot of things wrong with the Ice Bucket Challenge, but most the annoying is that it’s basically narcissism masked as altruism. By the time the summer heat cools off and ice water no longer feels refreshing, people will have completely forgotten about ALS.
This is the crux of millennial “hashtag activism,” where instead of actually doing something, you can just pretend like you’re doing something by posting things all over your Facebook.
Most of the videos don’t even mention ALS, let alone do anything to support ALS research. Take Martha Stewart’s video, which described the Ice Bucket Challenge as a “viral internet sensation that calls for a person to dump a bucket of icy water on his/her head, then extend the challenge to someone else.”
In case you didn’t take the time to Google ALS while you were waiting for all that ice to freeze, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is a neurodegenerative disease that affects motor neurons in the brain and spinal cord. Over time, these neurons degenerate and die, which severely limits muscle movement. Because there is no cure for ALS, this eventually leads to full muscle paralysis, respiratory failure, and death. Only about 20 percent of people with ALS survive five years or more. If you want to make some fraction of a difference, consider donating to the ALS Association or volunteering your time with an ALS organization.
And I mean, you can dump a bucket of ice water on your head if you really want—but don’t try to tell me that you’re doing it for charity.
The key problem is funding cannibalism. That $3 million in donations doesn’t appear out of a vacuum. Because people on average are limited in how much they’re willing to donate to good causes, if someone donates $100 to the ALS Association, he or she will likely donate less to other charities.
A similar phenomenon has been studied in the lab by psychologists. It’s called moral licensing: the idea that doing one good action leads one to compensate by doing fewer good actions in the future. In a recent experiment, participants either selected a product from a selection of mostly “green” items (like an energy-efficient light bulb) or from a selection of mostly conventional items (like a regular light bulb). They were then told to perform a supposedly unrelated task. People who had previously purchased a green product were significantly more likely to both lie and steal than those who had purchased the conventional product.
The ice bucket challenge has done one good thing, which is raise $3 million for the ALS Association. But it’s also done a really bad thing: take money and attention away from other charities and other causes.
So you know what isn’t trite about tens of thousands of goons dumping ice on their heads and shouting about it on the Internet? The millions of dollars it has raised for research to help get us a little closer to cracking the code. That will be what changes lives long after the last ice cube hits the pavement.
ALSA thinks that the numbers speak for themselves. “If this was about narcissism, then I don’t think people would donate,” says spokesperson Carrie Munk. “People have been so tremendously generous. Also, even if they didn’t donate, they’re still raising awareness about ALS, which is invaluable considering last week only 50 percent of the public had even heard of ALS. When people look back on the Ice Bucket Challenge years from now, I’m pretty confident it will be seen as the ‘game changer’ in the fight against this disease.”
Despite the movement’s clear-cut goal, many have criticized it as a form of “clicktivism” that ultimately delivers more faux-activist pride to the participants than funds to the ALS researchers.
However, digital content data and marketing technology company Amobee suggests the negativity may be unwarranted. Scanning more than 2 billion online mentions, it saw that the number of viewers who saw or read content that referred to the terms “ALS,” “Lou Gehrig’s Disease” and “Ice Bucket Challenge” skyrocketed from the week of July 30 to the week of Aug. 6.
Specifically, items that included the term “ALS” increased 1,007 percent, and ones that mentioned Lou Gehrig’s Disease increased 1,167 percent. And, since the campaign began, there’s been 42 percent fewer materials read or seen with the words “Ice Bucket Challenge” compared to ALS-related terms.
Another significant increase: The rate and total of donations have rapidly risen. TIME reported that $1 million was raised last weekend, and a total of $2.3 million has been raised since July 29. During the same time period last year, the organization only brought in $25,000 in donations.