At first I thought it might be ego. Having spent the last 20 years working to help ideas that matter break through the clutter, the #icebucketchallenge was the jackpot. And I had nothing to do with it. A totally viral, cost-free fundraising effort has resulted in what ALS says is over $45 million raised. An important cause that most people hadn’t heard of is now a household word. People from every race, creed, age and gender are participating, binding celebrities and “normals” together in an effort to change the world. What’s not to love?
A lot. Here are my top 3 reasons the #icebucketchallenge needs to stop:
1) The #icebucketchallenge is American hashtag activism at its worst. We are a becoming a generation with the attention span of a fly for actually doing the heavy lift that is required for social change. Did we #bringbackourgirls? Does anyone even know where they are? No. But that made for some good social media content for about a week. I honestly wonder what percent of people taking the challenge knows even 2 facts about what ALS is, its terrible effect on those with the disease, and why curing it matters. And if you woke up most ice bucket dumpers or dumpees at 2am and asked why they care so much about ALS, they would likely answer “ALS?” Two months from now, when our social media feeds have returned to photos of our friends’ latest meal or cute quotes from their kids, I doubt that a second thought will be given to those affected by ALS and their families.
2) I don’t believe that the majority of people taking the challenge will, in fact, contribute to ALS. (As a young friend of mine who had recently taken the challenge asked, “Is there an ALS.com?”) In fact, the entire challenge is actually about people AVOIDING making a contribution. The counter-intuitive nature of this hasn’t quite struck people yet. If you DO the #icebucketchallenge, it is equivalent to saying “I would rather dump a bucket of ice on my head than make a financial contribution to a good cause.” That is many layers of wrong messaging.
3) If we are going to get behind a cause with social media content as the main driver of participation, let’s do our homework. ALS is, tragically, not a disease that can benefit from the awareness it’s being given. Unlike AIDS or even bullying, there is no behavioral fix here. Nor will private dollars go as far as you might think. As my friend Rich Neimand, whose firm worked with the ALS Association and is thrilled for this particular success, recently said, what’s missing from the #icebucketchallenge is “a recognition that public health research funding is (what is) critical. Privately raised money makes a difference, but it won’t make as much of a difference over time. Few researchers can afford to dedicate their careers to a disease with inconsistent funding. ALS will never raise another $44 million as the public moves onto a new challenge next year.” Right.
When the challenge made its way to me, I did what my conscience suggested. I made a donation (which you can do NOT at “als.com” or even als.org but at ALSA.org—something every ice bucket video post should include both verbally and in the headline of the post).
But I refuse to film and post an #icebucketchallenge video, and so should you.
So when the next copy-cat campaign comes along, which it will (think every color of rubber bracelet after the success of Livestrong), ask yourself if social media posts are really enough to make the difference you claim to seek. Explain to your kids that heavy lifting isn’t only about the weight of ice buckets turned over heads but also things like volunteering your time. Explain that all of us need to educate ourselves about our representatives and their views, and learn to communicate effectively with policy decision makers. If we do that, then maybe, just maybe, we can leverage the wonders of short term, social media virality to achieve long-lasting change.
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