Is the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Really Worthwhile?

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If you scroll through your Facebook, Instagram or Twitter feeds, you probably wont be surprised to see them filled with videos of people pouring cold buckets of water over their heads in efforts to complete the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

The Ice Bucket Challenge is a recent social media phenomenon, which is aimed at raising awareness for ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The disease is neurodegenerative, meaning that it impacts the functioning of nerve cells in the brain and spinal chord. As ALS progresses in the body, it slowly causes the patient to lose all control in voluntary muscle functioning and eventually they are no longer able to move any parts of their body. The disease takes a deadly turn when it begins to effect the functioning of muscles in the chest and diaphragm, meaning that people lose their ability to breathe without the support of a ventilator.

The Ice Bucket Challenge apparently started with golfers in the United States who wanted to raise money for pet charities. The cause took a turn to support ALS when one golfer decided to take the challenge to raise money for a relative who suffered from the disease.

From there on, the Ice Bucket Challenge has turned into a social media frenzy where people challenge one another to be drenched with ice water and post a video on social media. If a nominee does not complete the task in 24 hours, they must donate $100 to the ALS Foundation.

Many celebrities, entertainers, politicians, and sports personalities have all jumped onto the bandwagon. Bill Gates, Drake, Jennifer Lopez, Lebron James, Oprah and Will Smith are just a few big names that have completed the challenge. Closer to home, a number of high profile Vancouverites such as Michael Buble, Rick Hansen, and Trevor Linden have taken the pledge to be soaked in icy cold water.

With the Ice Bucket Challenge taking over social media by storm, a question arises in regards to the motivation behind completing the task and what really drives people to participate in this cause. The campaign has been referred to as “slacktivism” as many critics claim that social media activism is just a way for participants to project that they care about an important cause while drawing attention to themselves and gaining “likes” on their social media accounts.

Because the challenge has been associated so closely with high profile names, skeptics are also critical about people’s willingness to participate because it is a celebrity trend, or if they really understand what ALS is and the reason behind the campaign.

Furthermore, ALS is a rare disease that impacts a relatively small part of the population. Currently there are approximately 2,500 to 3,000 Canadians who suffer from the disease. In the United States there are 5,600 people diagnosed with ALS each year.

According to Statistics Canada, the leading causes of death in the nation are cancer and heart disease which have led to 242,074 and 72,476 deaths in the past year, respectively. Because the rarity of ALS, some are wondering why there is no attention being raised for diseases that impact a larger amount of the population.

Despite these concerns, the Ice Bucket Challenge has proven to be very successful. The ALS Association website reported that the campaign has raised more than $50 million dollars. This is a huge increase, as last year’s donations only reached $19.4 million in proceeds. In addition, there have been 1.1 million new donors to The Association.

When it comes down to the numbers, the Ice Bucket Challenge has made enormous strides for the ALS community. The campaign itself highlights that social media is an extremely powerful tool that can create a myriad of support for important social issues that previously may have not been well known.

That being said, we cannot overlook the fact the Ice Bucket Challenge is a social media campaign that is raising awareness and money for a meaningful cause. Often, social media trends such as the Nek Nominations, planking and the Harlem shake gain popularity, but do not advocate a purpose for the greater good of society.

If you need a reminder about why the Ice Bucket Challenge is a worthwhile campaign, you may want to check the YouTube video posted by Anthony Carbajal, a 26-year-old California man who has been diagnosed with ALS. The video, which has already gained over 8 million views, hilariously begins with Carbajal dressed in a bikini top and short shorts.

However, things take a serious turn when he explains that ALS runs in his family and footage is shown of Carbajal helping his mother who has the disease and has lost all movement in her body. He also mentions how the disease has already taken a toll on his body at such a young age as he has slowly started to lose movement in his hands.

The video brings everything about the Ice Bucket Challenge into perspective as it reminds viewers that the campaign is more than a silly attention-seeking fad. Carbajal’s video exposes the real meaning of the Challenge and how it is creating hope for those who suffer from the disease.

Feature Image: Instagram 

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Simran Singh is a Contributor at Vancity Buzz. She is currently pursuing her Masters of Journalism at the University of British Columbia. She is a big fan of coffee, writing and exploring Vancouver. Send a story idea her way at simran@vancitybuzz.com
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