The Ice Bucket Challenge & Media

John Maino performs the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

If you have not seen videos of this on the Internet yet, you obviously haven’t been online recently. Basically, it’s when you pour a bucket of ice and water over your head if you get nominated by a friend to donate to charity. I know what you’re thinking, yes, you either pour the water over your head OR donate to charity if you don’t complete the task within 24 hours. The point is to raise awareness for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) if you’re in America, and the Motor Neurone Disease Association if you’re in the UK.

Homemade video recordings of people drenching themselves in icy, cold water with their friends went viral during July and August of 2014. As with anything described as “viral”, viruses for example, there has to be a patient zero. People seem to not realise that this fad has been around since the middle of 2013 (according to some). However, it has been used as a “charitable catalyst”, a way that people could donate money while having some harmless fun. The earliest version of the challenge being used to donate money for a charity is said to be originally known as the “Cold Water Challenge”, where people would either have to donate money to cancer research or jump into cold water.

So…how did this get so popular? Well, let me first point out that the participants who underwent the very first “Cold Water Challenges” in mid 2013 recorded and posted their efforts on social media. This eventually blew up in North America and received growing news attention due to the sudden spread of such a unique idea. It is said that the challenge was brought to mainstream attention when television anchor Matt Lauer did the Ice Bucket Challenge on July 15th on NBC. Soon afterwards, the challenge made its way to golfer Chris Kennedy, where his beloved family member has been suffering with ALS for the past 11 years. This was when the Ice Bucket Challenge first made its way into ALS territory, and became associated with the disease.

Ever since then, media all around the world has been swamped with videos of people completing this Ice Bucket Challenge and more than $88.5 million US dollars has been raised for ALS. In a way, I found this extremely rapid spread of media somewhat of a scary thought. I remember seeing the first video on my Facebook newsfeed a few weeks ago and thinking “what is this guy doing?”. The next thing I know…everyone is doing it and even I got nominated. I found it scary because the fact that an originally small idea grew into a worldwide movement within such a short amount of time just goes to show you how many people are online nowadays.

It was as if the initial social media aspect of it was just the beginning, it was the virus slowly rooting itself in your body, waiting for the perfect moment to strike. Now when it got to television, boom! The virus has entered your entire bodily system and the infection has begun. It is everywhere, no matter where you look, where you go, or what you do, you are reminded of this every day. Social media has promoted the Ice Bucket Challenge even more after the recognition from television, and there is evidence of it taking place in a huge variety of countries. Being able to connect to the Internet has become such a ritual for everyone in today’s world, and people have argued that this has removed the charitable and originally selfless gesture that was meant to be undertaken. Now it is as if people just do it for attention, a few minutes or days worth of fame amongst your friends, and that’s it. Not because you care, but because you can do what everyone else is doing online too.

As evident from what I just said, there are several criticisms associated with the Ice Bucket Challenge. I won’t go into too much detail about that, but please allow Australian news anchor Lincoln Humphries to do it of it for me (technically, I am also guilty of encouraging the spread of something online…this video):

We’ve seen this happen before with Gangnam Style, Justin Bieber, Rebecca Black, Joseph Kony, the list goes on and on. Unlike television, you do not need a special contact to get you connected. Anyone can access it, and anyone can post anything they want to. Inevitably, there are ongoing legal disputes between what happens in the material world as we know it, and the online world. The potential audience for something you post on the Internet is much larger than any other media platform, the idea of a “public audience” is greater. However, when combined with these other platforms such as television and radio, the spread is even faster as can be seen with the people’s current favourite, the Ice Bucket Challenge.

I just can’t wait to see what people will think of next.

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