Challenging the Ice Bucket Challenge


ice bucket challenge, alsAs I see it, there are a number of problems with the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge:

Firstly, it breeds slacktivism – people using media trends to shirk more meaningful ways of charitable involvement and placing the benefits of appearing charitable to their friends or followers above the point of the campaign itself.

Secondly, by making the challenge itself the focal point of the campaign, many who have taken part haven’t donated or even mentioned ALS in their videos. This confusion has been seized upon by Macmillan who, somewhat unethically, have attempted to appropriate it for cancer treatment rather than Motor Neurone Disease.

Thirdly, it has marred the cause somewhat by raising concerns over the treatment of animals during research procedures, and over Western attitudes towards clean water — something millions in the developing world still live without.

All of these criticisms have been raised by the great and good across a variety of media platforms (most notably by the eminently ethical Pamela Anderson). In my opinion, however, these debates do little to undermine what is fundamentally an explosion of charitable goodwill for a worthy cause.

Slacktivism is incredibly annoying. It’s annoying to watch someone pour a bucket of ice cold water over themselves, pledging allegiance to a charity and a cause that they’ve never heard of and hardly researched, all to seem like a better person. It’s a little bit morally wrong, I suppose. We’re talking about people’s lives here, people suffering from a horrendously debilitating illness and undergoing a level of suffering most of us can’t even comprehend. We shouldn’t be trying to use causes like this to boost our egos, and certainly shouldn’t decide which charities we support (and therefore whose fight for life we support) purely on the latest passing internet fad.

Are any of these harms, however, actually worse than the benefit of spreading awareness of Motor Neurone Disease? I think not. The Ice Bucket Challenge has single-handedly lodged the disease in the public consciousness, and raised tens of millions of pounds from a demographic notoriously unresponsive to charitable campaigns. Donations will probably plummet as the challenge reaches its inevitable end, but many will sustain their support, enabling life-changing research to continue and progress. I place that above mild annoyance and a symbolic evil any day.

The people who aren’t even mentioning ALS clearly aren’t spreading awareness in any way, shape or form. They are essentially turning a charitable challenge into something resembling a neknomination. There is little I can claim to redeem these people, but at least they’re not actually harming anyone. Those supporting Macmillan instead of ALS, meanwhile, are ultimately doing a good thing. Even if they have entirely missed the point of the challenge – to raise awareness for ALS, which receives a fraction of the attention and funding that cancer does. Overall, though, the majority of challenges have been incredibly successful, and Motor Neurone Disease is becoming more and more high-profile by the day.

Testing on animals is a sad, truly regrettable aspect of medical research, but the fact remains that thousands of lives have been saved because of it. As someone who has personally seen the debilitating effects of Motor Neurone Disease, I would advise Pamela Anderson and others to watch a person they care about suffer from ALS before decrying animal research.

Equally, those suffering from Motor Neurone Disease are by no means responsible for the animal research that has taken place. A lot of money from Motor Neurone Disease charities goes towards palliative care and support, making life that bit easier for sufferers at the end of their lives. Refusing to support sufferers because of the actions of some scientists seems cruel to me.

Finally, the haziest criticism levelled at the Ice Bucket Challenge is the idea that we are wasting water. Access to clean water is a huge problem in the developing world, but if people weren’t participating in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge that water would not be going to any of these developing countries. If we weigh up the symbolic harm of Westerners wasting water with the real, physical benefit of donations to Motor Neurone Disease charities, this argument falls to pieces. Yes – we need to ensure that all human beings on this planet have access to clean water; it is a basic human right. But abstaining from the Ice Bucket Challenge won’t solve this, it simply harms those suffering from ALS

With any worldwide social media trend like the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, it is all too easy to be cynical – I certainly was at the beginning. However, somehow all complaints like vanity, extravagance and inefficacy pale in comparison to the visible good this campaign is doing. The American ALS charity has raised just under $80 million as I write this article, and funds are continuing to be raised worldwide. Tomorrow, I will douse myself in water both in memory of those I have lost and in hope for a future cure, and I truly hope as many St Andreans as possible will join me.


  1. I agree. My wife’s mother and four other family members have died from ALS. Any news about the fight is good news. The water wasted is a literal drop in the bucket. One load of laundry here in the US consumes 44 gallons of water. I used less than 2 gallons when I took the challenge.


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