Viral Ice Bucket Challenge Raises Millions for ALS Research

millenialsAnyone who’s been on social media in the past few weeks has seen the videos: Friends squealing as a bucket of ice-cold water is dumped on their head, and then challenging other friends through chattering teeth to do the same in 24 hours or donate $100 to ALS research.

The current round of Ice Bucket Challenge videos originated with NBC Today Show host Matt Lauer, who was challenged by golfer Greg Norman to pour ice water on his head on July 15. Lauer’s decision to donate to the Hospice of Palm Beach County and challenge Brian Williams, Martha Stewart and Howard Stern eventually got the attention of Pete Frates, a New Yorker and former college baseball player with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

Frates realized that the goofy viral video trend could be turned into a fundraiser for ALS. Also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, ALS attacks nerve cells and eventually leads to complete paralysis. After diagnosis, patients are usually expected to live only 2-5 years. The disease affects about 30,000 Americans.

Frates nominated himself and posted a video of himself bobbing his head to Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby,” since, he said on facebook, “ice water and ALS are a bad mix.” He challenged a few friends, and in no time the viral trend spread from Boston to the rest of the world, including a slew of celebrities like Lady Gaga, Bill Gates, John Barrowman and Chris Pratt dousing themselves for charity. Even President Obama was challenged, though he chose to donate $100 rather than have ice poured on his head.

Between June 1 and Aug. 13, more than 1.2 million ice bucket challenge videos have been shared on Facebook, and the trend has been mentioned on twitter over 2.2 million times since July 29. Companies have been using content sharing to determine how effective or viral content is for years, and by that measure, ice bucket videos are a hot commodity. But are they making a difference?

Many people have criticized what they call a “slacktivist” campaign that focuses on narcissism and attention-seeking over real change, especially since many people pouring ice on their heads are doing that as an alternative to donation. A variation emerged to combat this critique, which requires participants to donate $10 even if they pour ice on their heads. Others just donate anyway.

Even if the method is in question, it’s hard to critique the effectiveness. Donations to the ALS association have spiked since the challenge began, and the association says it’s received $13.3 million in donations since July 29, versus the $1.7 million it received in the same period last year. It also said that the Ice Bucket Challenge has brought in 260,000 new donors, a number which is only expected to go up as celebrities jump on the bandwagon.

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