Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Should we throw cold water on the 'Ice Bucket Challenge'?

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If you’ve been on Facebook or Twitter recently, you’ve probably seen the Ice Bucket Challenge. The campaign asks people to donate $100 to ALS research or pour a bucket of ice water over their head. Anyone who performs this feat on camera then nominates several friends to take the same challenge for ALS, an incurable, neurodegenerative disease also known as Lou Gherig’s disease.

The social networks have exploded with videos of people cleverly drenching themselves, often with kids or pets in the background. Overwhelmingly, the success of the campaign has been the videos.

Like Movember and other viral campaigns before it, the Ice Bucket Challenge brings to mind a couple of questions: Are people actually making donations to the disease? How much impact does such a campaign have on patients? The ALS Association has seen donations skyrocket since people jumped on the bandwagon, with $1.35 million collected between July 29 and Aug. 11, compared with $22,000 over the same period last year.

The challenge, though, didn’t originate with the ALS Association. It started in June with a few professional athletes, including golfer Greg Norman, who dared each other to complete the challenge or donate $100 to any charity. 

Some bloggers have asked if it’s enough to participate in a social media trend without supporting the cause behind it. Perhaps we should challenge ourselves to do more than film a funny video for our friends on Facebook, even if the goal is to raise awareness for ALS, which often goes unmentioned. Will Oremus, senior technology writer at Slate, has called for a No Ice Bucket Campaign and for people to simply make a donation to ALS research.

Other bloggers have argued the campaign is creating real results for ALS, even if the message isn’t always clear in the viral videos. The Today show’s Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie notoriously forgot to mention the disease during their bucket dump, which led some to question the true impact of the campaign.

What do you think? Are viral campaigns worth the awareness they drive or do they miss the point, which is to help patients suffering from these diseases? We’d love to hear your thoughts.