Tuesday, August 19, 2014

What is the Ice Bucket Challenge

Bill Gates ALS Ice Bucket Challenge
Bill Gates ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

You can't go an hour without seeing an online video one of your friends, a major celebrity or a tech titan dump a bucket of ice water on their heads posted on social networking sites. If you’ve spent any time on social media lately, you are probably familiar with the “ALS Ice Bucket Challenge,” which over the last few weeks has spread like wildfire through news feeds across the country. The parameters of the Challenge are thus: If elected to participate by one of your peers, you must either pour a bucket of ice water over your head, or make a donation to the ALS Association, or both. You have 24 hours to do so. Video of the ritual is then published on Facebook for any and all to see. Mark Zuckerberg has accepted the challenge. Jimmy Fallon has too. Conan O’Brien answered the call. But according to new Facebook data, the ice bucket challenge quietly started as far back as June 8, nearly six weeks before it was tied to ALS in July and eventually reached viral status this week.

For those unfamiliar with the trend, the concept is easy: Grab a bucket of ice water, pour it over your head and have someone film the whole thing. Post the clip to Facebook or Twitter and then challenge a few people (even celebrities) to do the same within 24 hours, or make a $100 donation to charity. Of course, the idea is to do both. It's become this summer's version of the "Harlem Shake" or "Call Me Maybe" video parodies, but for a good cause.

While "Today" show anchor Matt Lauer was one of the first to bring the ice bucket challenge to the mainstream on July 15 during a live broadcast, it wasn't until golfer Chris Kennedy participated too and challenged his cousin Jeanette Senerchia of Pelham, New York to film her own video — her husband is battling is ALS.

Mark Zuckerberg Accepts Ice Bucket Challenge
Mark Zuckerberg Accepts Ice Bucket Challenge

The ingenious social media campaign was designed to garner both awareness and support for the fight against amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. ALS, more commonly referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease,” is a neurodegenerative illness affecting the nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. The disease causes the progressive breakdown of motor neurons, which over time leads to a loss of control over the body’s muscles, and eventually paralysis and death. It goes without saying that this currently cureless disease is worthy of both funds and awareness. Between July 29 and Aug. 12, the ALS Association and its 38 chapters raised a total of $4 million, or nearly $3 million more than during the same period last year. The campaign has already, Facebook told Time magazine this week, resulted in 1.2 million unique videos.
Of course, the Challenge has also drawn its fair share of criticism. Jacob Davidson (whose father died of ALS) explains his trouble reconciling the nature of the Challenge with the admittedly impressive sum of money it has raised. “’Want to help fight this disease? No? Well, then you better dump some cold water on your head’” Davidson writes, paraphrasing what he views as the perverse incentive structure built into the campaign. “The challenge even seems to be suggesting that being cold, wet, and uncomfortable is preferable to fighting ALS.” And William McAskill, a research fellow in moral philosophy at Emmanuel College, explains in a Quartz article his concern that the Challenge could cannibalize donations to other causes.

More than 15 million people have joined in on the conversation about the ice bucket challenge on Facebook, including posting, commenting or Liking a challenge post. Facebook—and many other social companies—periodically release data about its users en masse to highlight interesting trends and to receive positive press coverage. In February, Facebook shared what it sees when its users fall in love; last fall, Foursquare showed how the habits of its users changed in D.C. as the government shutdown dragged on. These big data dumps should also be a reminder that Facebook can see many things about us—very often details that are less splashy than a bucket of ice water, but revealing in ways we'll never know.


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