Social issues

Slacktivism or Activism?

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge – is it actually working? 

– by David Churack


We’ve all heard of the ALS Ice Bucket challenge, where participants douse themselves in freezing cold water in order to raise money and awareness for amyotrophic lateral scoliosis (ALS).

We have also all seen videos of friends, family members and celebrities completing the challenge. Hell, even former president of the United States George W. Bush has done the challenge!

But the question remains whether the challenge genuinely acts to help the clinical research and treatment of ALS, or whether it constitutes an ineffectual form of ‘Slacktivism’.

This inspired term slacktivism refers to the superficial support of a cause or charity effort that has little or no effect other than making the participant feel good about committing to a worthwhile cause.

It is easy to see how the Ice Bucket challenge could face criticism as a slacktivist activity. Criticism has mainly been directed at the fact that a large percentage of individuals simply upload a video of themselves dumping buckets of iced water on themselves without any mention of donating money or the ALS affliction.

The original formulation of the Ice Bucket challenge stipulates that either a participant donates $100 or they douse themselves in IceBucketChallengeice water. But, as the abundance of videos without reference to ALS or links to places of donation makes clear, the focus of the challenge has indelibly shifted towards the social act of completing the challenge and nominating friends.

Commentators have even gone so far as to suggest participants mentally substitute the act of dumping cold water on their heads for other charitable acts, and thereby redirect charitable efforts towards this ineffectual activity.

Other criticisms include that the challenge wastes water and that it can lead to health complications in participants – at least one death has been linked to the challenge, as well as many incidences of bruising and other minor injuries.

But closer examination of the evidence suggests these criticisms are misplaced.

It is after all easy to intuitively reject the act of pouring ice water on one’s head as a charitable gesture, but figures show the Ice Bucket Challenge really does seem to be helping.

According to the ALS Institutes’ own figures, in the month that the Ice Bucket Challenge took off, over $15 million dollars was raised. Compared to the approximate $1.5 million raised over this same one-month period in 2013, it is clear that the Challenge is making a significant difference.

As for the safety concerns, health experts agree that the challenge in its original form is relatively harmless. It is the self-administered risks and showmanship of participants that creates danger and results in injuries.

While the claim that the Ice Bucket challenge has become more of a social activity than a charitable activity has some merit, the end result of the challenge is over $100 million dollars flooding towards an undoubtedly worthy cause.

And regardless of how many participants of the Ice Bucket Challenge helped reach this sum, or their reasons for doing so, it has to be acknowledged that $100 million dollars to help sufferers of ALS is more than worth a few painful videos and a little cold water.


Now, please enjoy America’s 43rd President getting a bucket of cold water thrown in his face.

Photos: Flickr slgckgc & tenz1225

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