Slacktivism and the ALS Icebucket Challenge

By: Cate Talaue



What do you get when you cross a man with an ice bucket, a good cause and a video camera? The ALS ice bucket challenge of course. This challenge is one of the newest viral trends to sweep the net, filling up our social media news feeds with pictures and videos of people being doused with large buckets of ice water in order to raise awareness and collect donations for the ALS Association. Most participants in the challenge are nominated on Facebook, they participate by making and posting a video in which they nominate an additional two or three individuals, giving them only one day to complete the challenge.

According to the Association’s official website, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a “progressive neuro-degenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. When the motor neurons die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost, with patients becoming totally paralyzed and leading to death”.

Although The Icebucket Challenge trend has been around for quite some time, it wasn’t until former Boston College Varsity baseball player, Pete Frates (who is diagnosed with ALS himself) participated in the challenge that the movement really took off.

Since then, many big name celebrities and public figures have participated, from Tom Cruise and Charlie Sheen, to Kermit the Frog and Leonardo DiCaprio. A few local celebrities have also taken part in the “drenching” for this worthy cause such as Mayor Rob Ford and our very own Brock University Senior Administrators: President Jack Lightstone, and Vice Presidents Brian Hutchings, Neil McCartney and Gary Libben.


Even Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was nominated for the challenge and although that stoic stick in the mud opted not to participate, he did donate towards the cause.

Within the last month, after going viral, ALS Canada said that $5.6 million has been donated. Even more incredibly, the ALS Association in the U.S. has received more than $70.2 million, making that a whopping $75.8 million in North America alone. After scrolling through my personal social media feeds, it looks as though the donations will continue to pour in.

Truthfully, if it hadn’t been for this new trend, I might have gone the rest of my days without knowing about ALS and how it effects each patient. When I was nominated by a close friend, I took it upon myself to get educated before moving forward with the challenge. Although it was tempting to participate on a whim in order to fit in with the flurry of other videos that had already been posted online, it became a much more satisfying activity when becoming aware of the severity of the disease and just how poignantly it affects the lives of diagnosed individuals.

This type of activism, in which people are able to raise awareness and donate money by the click of a button, is known as slacktivism. It includes but is not limited to episodic donations, promotion through social media and other online outlets, or a call to action via petitions: ‘likes’ on Facebook, ‘retweets’ on Twitter, etc. Unfortunately, however, like any other viral trend that ignites, this one is sure to burn out as quickly as it started, which is quite unfortunate.

Something noteworthy about this challenge is that it mixes entertainment with activism, making it a little more eye-catching than the typical raffle or marathon. Some of the videos that I’ve happened to come across range from absolutely hilarious to relatively unoriginal, but still very appealing.

I only hope that charities don’t have to blend themselves into our consumer culture in order to raise money. Hopefully, even without the flash of viral videos and Internet buzz, individuals will still be as quick and selfless in giving much-needed donations.

While some could be participating with a genuine intention, others could be posting those pictures and videos in order to fashion an image of themselves as activists, as well as not wanting to be left out of another media craze.

But I suppose that at the end of the day, no matter what your motivation is, the ALS Association as well as its patients are benefitting from this 24-hour challenge and it has created awareness for myself, as well as many others.

If you would like to donate, visit, keep dumping those buckets and keep up the generous donations.

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