Like most people, my Facebook feed is currently filled with videos of my shirtless friends and their friends and friends’ friends dumping everything from salad bowls to Gatorade coolers filled with ice water over their heads. Like a lot of people, I initially wondered, “What the hell are these whackjobs up to?” and when I took a few moments to find out what this #IceBucketChallenge was all about and learned that it was supporting ALS research and awareness, I still, like some people, asked myself, “So you dump a bucket of water on yourself to avoid donating money to charity? Who is that even helping?” The answer is that it really helps a lot of people, and they’re incredibly grateful for it.
On Monday, Justin Timberlake and the Tennessee Kids got in on the Ice Bucket Challenge by not only dumping buckets of water over their heads and shouting in the camera to let us know that it was cold, but by also issuing a challenge to Jimmy Fallon, Steve Higgins and The Roots, or basically everyone at The Tonight Show. JT wasn’t the first to challenge Fallon, as the late night host would reveal last night, but since they’re BFF, it was time to make good. Rob Riggle stopped by to promote Let’s Be Cops, and since he had also been challenged to dump water on himself that day, they decided to get it all out of the way in one fell swoop.
Okay, some famous people dumped ice water over their heads. So what does that do for ALS research or awareness? In fact, I’ll allow this YouTube commenter to share the most common response that I’ve been seeing in the last week or so:
That’s what bothered me at first, too, because it seemed like it started as a fun idea to help spread awareness for a terrible disease that affects so many people, but then it turned into more of a gimmick for the “Suns out, guns out!” crowd to use as an excuse to pop those pecs and flex the abs. After all, the point (I think) is that if you don’t pour the ice water over your head, you have to donate $100 to the ALS Association, and I eventually learned that even if you do pull off the dump, you’re still supposed to drop $10 in the mail or PayPal. A lot of people have failed to include that information in their challenges, which might explain why there has been so much confusion and cynicism over this issue.
The cynicism really upset me, as did the outright nastiness shown by people commenting on various websites and even in my own Facebook and Twitter feeds. As I started reading more into the Ice Bucket Challenge to find out why people were reacting negatively to something based on such good intentions, I came across a story on the Huffington Post entitled, “#IceBucketChallenge: Why You’re Not Really Helping,” written by Ben Kosinski. In this cynical post that was shared 158,000+ times, Kosinski attributed his discontent for the challenge to “slacktivism.”
Slacktivism is a relatively new term with only negative connotations being associated with it as of recently. The whole thinking is that instead of actually donating money, you’re attributing your time and a social post in place of that donation. Basically, instead of donating $10 to Charity XYZ, slacktivism would have you create a Facebook Post about how much you care about Charity XYZ- generating immediate and heightened awareness but lacking any actual donations and long term impact. Previous examples of slacktivism are not hard to find- remember in 2012 when everyone, and I mean everyone, shared the Kony video? Very few people knew who Kony was, how they could donate or where they could get involved- but all of a sudden, these viewers (myself, included) could contribute! We could share the Kony video on our Facebook and Twitter — and while doing so, eliminating any chance we may have had at donating our time or money towards an actual prevention or cause directly related to the capture of Kony. You see, we valued our social posts at an incrementally higher cost than a donation- and by placing a sub-concioucs value on our Facebook post or Tweet, we told ourselves that we had done our part in trying to find Kony and then were able to pleasantly shift our thinking back to what we were going to eat for lunch. We had helped. We had participated. We patted ourselves on the back. We had tweeted. (Via the HuffPo)
Again, I shared this view from the start, because I saw people dumping water over their heads, but I didn’t hear much at all about money. Hell, one of my friends did it and bragged that he didn’t “owe any money” now. But at the same time, having recently attended fundraisers for A Life Story Foundation, founded by my friend Kevin Swan, I realized that prior to these videos and subsequent complaints, I hadn’t heard very many people talking about ALS at all. At the very least, no one on the same level as Timberlake and Fallon had been talking about it on their YouTube channels and the most watched late night show in America, respectively. Still, it seems that Kosinski wasn’t content with people just talking about this bad disease, as his solution was rather simple.
By the end of it, you might have bought 6 bags and spent 30 minutes on creating this video. Boom, posted- and all of a sudden you’re a philanthropist, spreading your charitable touch across your Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Due to all of this, you’ve internally placed a monetary value on the cost of goods, the time spent and for posting on your social channels. This monetary value has little long term effect and next time you’re thinking of donating to a charity or for a cause, you might think back to that time you created a video.
You’ve done your part, remember?
And although the ALS Assocation has seen as much as four times as many donations during this time period than last year, just imagine with me for one second: What if the thousands of people who spent money on buying one or two2 bags of ice actually gave that money to ALS? It would be out of control.
But that’s not how we think.
I bolded that line, because once I read it I loudly replied, “Wait, why the hell did I just read everything leading up to this?” Ultimately, he concluded with contradictions that instead of raising awareness, we should just be aware and give money accordingly.
The #IceBucketChallenge has done a tremendous job at generating awareness for a terrible disease. But next time somebody challenges you to participate, try to show your friends how crazy you really are and just donate to the cause.
And therein lies the Catch-22 of viral promotions and awareness. Without the Ice Bucket Challenge, these videos don’t exist and the ice isn’t purchased, and the $2 spent on each bag stays in someone’s wallet. I’m not the only one who raised an eyebrow at Kosinski’s rant either, as the HuffPo’s legendarily rabid commenters dug in and took him to the woodshed for his negative attitude, so much so that he then spent time responding to the commenters, many of whom claimed to have lost relatives and friends to ALS, by explaining that he was looking at this from a “perspective as a millennial in technology/social,” whatever that means.
What Kosinski and others have failed to realize in their negativity about something that does not affect them one way or another if they don’t want it to is that this seemingly simple routine has raised a TON of money in the last month alone. According to CBS in Boston, where the Ice Bucket Challenge has been going strong for months thanks to the friends, family and supporters of former Boston College baseball player Pete Frates, the national headquarters of the ALS Association has reported that more than $4 million has been raised in donations since July 29. Last year, at this same time, that number was only $1.1 million. Additionally, 71,000 people have made donations, as opposed to 25,000 last year. TIME reports that this past weekend alone saw more than $1 million in donations for ALS research, while NBC News added that local chapters across the country are also being “flooded” with donations.
When Frates accepted his own challenge on July 31, he issued challenges to some of Boston’s most notable personalities, including Patriots stars Tom Brady and Julian Edelman. The latter not only accepted the challenge (albeit a little later than within 24 hours) but his video blew up and was soon all over Facebook and blogs thanks to those loyal Boston sports fans. While I’m not positive that Edelman was the catalyst that got things going, he certainly provided a priceless amount of PR and viral marketing that the ALS Association would have never been able to afford.
On August 7, thanks to Frates and the ensuing slew of response videos, 200 Bostonians showed up in Copley Square to accept the challenge and, again, raise awareness. Would they have been better off taking the $2 that they each spent on a bag of ice (assuming some of them spent anything on ice) and donating that instead of having a little fun and creating a Vine clip like this? (No. The answer is very much no.)
Since then, and leading up to Fallon and Riggle last night, notable celebrities and personalities like Ethel Kennedy, Matt Lauer, Martha Stewart, and even UFC women’s champion Ronda Rousey have gotten in on the action, each doing his or her part to raise awareness, as the ALS Association estimates that only 50 percent of Americans actually know about ALS.
As is the domino-like nature of professional sports, Edelman’s video has a lot of other NFL players buzzing about the Ice Bucket Challenge as well. Proving my ongoing theory that he’s the perfect All-American boy that every mom wants on her fantasy football team, Blake Bortles led the Jacksonville Jaguars rookies in their own video while issuing a challenge to the rest of the league’s incoming class.
Even NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, perhaps the most loathed and therefore charitably opportunistic man in all of professional sports, accepted the challenge while tossing it back at Pete Carroll and Michael Strahan.
— Roger Goodell (@nflcommish) August 12, 2014
Before I decided to write anything, I reached out to my friend Kevin at A Life Story for the perspective that matters, and to ask what this kind of buzz and viral marketing means to his and similar organizations. “What has been so amazing is the reach this movement has accomplished,” he told me. “We have received donations from across the country from people we have never been engaged with before now. We are in front of a completely new audience that is raising awareness and creating action. People are becoming advocates overnight!”
He admitted that he was initially skeptical about the viral movement as well, because he didn’t think it would translate into donations. However, he said, “People are not only learning about ALS they are challenging others to do the same. I don’t know how long it will last, but if it is known that the needle has moved, big time!”
Clearly, calling this a meaningless movement is ignorance at best. But the criticism is not limited to one snarky millennial blogger “heroically” fighting the burden of “slacktivism” or random clueless people who don’t have the 10 seconds it takes to Google “ice bucket challenge money raised” to see that this is, in fact, doing a lot for ALS. Let’s go ahead and look at UPROXX’s own Facebook commenters – a fine angry bunch in their own right – and the thoughts they shared when we posted a story about Sidney Crosby and other celebrities fulfilling their own Ice Bucket Challenges.
People who do the Ice Bucket Challenge should apparently light themselves on fire. And the criticism isn’t just limited to pissed off people with Facebook accounts and nothing better to do, because here’s a “hilarious” meme that someone made to express their own contempt for the challenge.
Look, I get cynicism. It breeds through general apathy, ignorance and even arrogance, especially when things aren’t going well in our own lives. God knows I’ve been there and done that. I’m certainly not going to sit here and tell people to grow up and stop being such hate-filled pricks on the Internet, because we all know that’s never going to happen. You want to be a cynical dick who scoffs at and mocks things for no reason other than you can? Fine, do it. I’ve been there and done that, too. You want to bash an athlete’s efforts because of the team he plays for and not give two flying fornications about the message that he’s taking the time to spread? Go for it. That’s your right as a wretched A-hole wasting his existence in Internet comment sections.
But here’s my challenge to all of the people out there who think the Ice Bucket Challenge is a waste of time, money or water, and does nothing but clog your newsfeeds with shirtless bros pouring water on themselves – think of something better to complain about. Because if your biggest problem in life is that some people want to raise awareness for a terrible disease in a humorous way, and not that some guy was given $50,000 to make potato salad or that a family has built an entertainment empire on top of a sex tape, you should be the envy of the entire world for your own perfect existence.