Do trendy Facebook challenges weaken “awareness”?


Facebook and other social media outlets have recently been buzzing with the new “Ice Bucket Challenge” that is intended to raise awareness for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, or ALS for short. While opinions are split between supporters and skeptics, I think the more important issue to address is the capacity at which these challenges truly raise awareness for the disease.

In case any readers are living under a rock and have not heard about the Ice Bucket Challenge, the premise is this: participants are nominated via Facebook, or other social media outlets such as Instagram or Twitter, and are prompted to endure a bucket of ice water poured over their heads. Then they must nominate a few other friends to do the challenge with the tagline “you have 24 hours or you have to donate $100 to ALS research.” Essentially, donating to the cause becomes a penalty for not completing the challenge.

The reality is that most people will pour the ice water on their head and forget about ALS. To the Average Joe’s of the social media community, the challenge is nothing more than an opportunity to get their friends to suffer an ice-bath. However, the movement has made it to the celebrity world, enticing A-listers such as Ashton Kutcher, Lady Gaga, and even Oprah to participate. These are people who are obviously capable not only of donating large sums of money to the ALS Association, but also of generating more excitement around the movement.

I care to challenge that in a couple weeks, the ice bucket challenge fad will fade, leaving a majority of its participants unable to remember what ALS even stands for. What does this say about the concept of raising awareness? Is dumping a bucket of ice water on our heads any substitute for engaging with the ALS community? Surely, there is a better way to show support. There are many stories to be heard and research to be done, and I do not think that the ice bucket challenge taps into that in any way. What participants should be doing is donating what they can, and learning more about the disease.

It’s fun, daring, creative, and completely viral. While the intention to gather support for those affected by the disease is pure and honest, I question if those participating are taking the time to educate themselves about it. Has awareness become simply an act of avoiding a donation to a worthy cause?