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The Power of Social Media: Spotlight on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

19 Sep

What do Oprah and Cristiano Ronaldo have in common?

What about Mark Zuckerberg and Britney Spears ?

How about Rafael Nadal and Apple CEO Tim Cook?

They’re six (of hundreds!) of celebrities and notable personalities who have taken part in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

Of course you’ve heard of it. Participants have been throwing a bucket of ice and water over their heads and nominating a couple of friends to do the same since mid-2013.

It’s unknown where the challenge itself originated, but the spotlight was put on ALS in mid-July, when golfer Chris Kennedy first suggested that the focus shift to ALS (Kennedy’s cousin Jeanette’s husband, Anthony has had ALS for 11 years).

ALS  stands for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, and is also known as Lou Gerhig’s disease. Here in Australia, we know it as Motor Neurone Disease .

The disease attacks nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. The degeneration normally results in the death of cells, and the loss of muscle movement can render patients totally paralysed. Today, there is no treatment or cure.

The challenge is to accept your friend’s nomination and douse yourself in freezing cold water within 24 hours. If you miss that deadline, you’re encouraged to donate. Many do both.

In just one month, the ALS Association in the US has reported $80 million in donations, compared to $2.5 million during the same period in 2013. This amount includes contributions from 1.7 million new donors.

As of mid-September, the cause has raised $112 million!

Someone’s always got to do something different though, don’t they?

Criticisms drawn have only propelled the campaign further, with some people arguing the meaning is lost behind the vanity of celebrities pouring water over themselves, without mentioning the name of the disease, what it is, and how one can donate. This conversation has done nothing but promote the event, all without ALS having to say a word.

Incidences become more extreme, entertaining or different, as people try to one-up each other.  Variations on the traditional challenge have fuelled the conversation and gotten more people talking:

• Instead of dousing himself in icy water, Charlie Sheen dumped a bucket of cash on his head, and announced he would be donating $10,000.

• Queensland newsreader Lincoln Humphries rejected the challenge, instead nominating “everyone, everywhere who has more than what they need to donate what they can to the people who need it most”.

 Pamela Anderson apologetically rejected the challenge, instead challenging ALS to stop animal testing.

• Some celebrities have been criticised for failing to even mention the disease or tell fans where they should go to donate, with people labelling it as just an excuse for narcissistic celebs to name-drop their famous friends and “show off their beach bods” .

Yes, it seems normal now for every viral campaign, video, speech, meme, or product (even the Ice Bucket Challenge, which is raising both awareness and money) to come with negative backlash.

This only helps propel the cause further: more widespread and clashing opinions means more people are talking about it.

Remember these viral trends?

Whenever something viral like this takes over, it’s hard to remember a time when you didn’t know its existence. Can you remember your Facebook News Feed before it was flooded (pardon the pun) with Ice Bucket Challenge videos?

Think back to all the viral trends of the past couple of years. Here are just a few…

➡ There’s  NekNomination, where someone skulls a drink and nominates two others to do the same within 24 hours – surely you remember it?! It drew widespread criticism and eventually fizzled out earlier this year.

➡ Sellotape Selfies, where people used tape to drastically mash and squash their faces while uploading an image to social media.

➡ #BringBackOurGirls, the campaign that went viral earlier this year, after 200 Nigerian school girls were kidnapped from their school by Islamic militants. The tweet #BringBackOurGirls was adapted from a speech from the vice president of the World Bank for Africa and has been used in over a million tweets. It garnered more spread on social media where people (famous and otherwise) posted photos of themselves holding a piece of paper with the hashtag written on it.

➡ The Harlem Shake , which resulted in parody videos being uploaded to the internet. At it’s height in popularity, in February 2013, 4000 Harlem Shake videos were being uploaded every day.

➡ Remember Kony 2012 ? The 30-minute video released by Invisible Children, Inc spread like wildfire. The aim was to “make [Ugandan warlord] Joseph Kony famous” to bring to light his alleged war crimes ultimately result in his arrest. Despite wide criticism of the verity of facts portrayed in the video and its creator Jason Russell’s mental health, it’s one of the most viral videos in history, clocking up 100 millions views in just six days.

The power of social media is sometimes more astonishing than we give it credit for. Online, we can reach out to people more frequently, quicker, and in a more personalised way, solidifying our ability to deliver a message wherever we are and however we want.

To learn more about ALS, or to donate, visit and