Pouring ice on Facebook’s Ego

Over the last month a new internet sensation called the “ALS Ice Bucket Challenge” has spread through our social media systems like the very disease it’s destined to destroy. Focused on “raising awareness” rather than raising cash, the Ice Bucket Challenge follows in the footsteps of #NoMakeUpSelfie in that it represents an entirely new breed of armchair activism. Where once such slacktivists would make lots of noise about a particular cause but do very little, the new social media approach downplays the cause all together, focusing instead on the individual involved.

Previously, people would donate to charities because they held a firm belief in what they were doing. They had either taken the time to research and understand the charity (and where their money was going), or had simply had the information thrust upon them by being personally affected by a particular cause.

In the internet age however, we don’t have time to waste researching a valuable cause or determining our own opinions. What we really want is a quick and easy way to prove that we’re fun-loving, kind, charitable people… just without all the pesky research that comes with actually caring about something. Well, say hello to the Ice Bucket Challenge!

It’s not about how you want ALS to be perceived it’s about how you want to be perceived

People aren’t signing up to this challenge because they care about ALS. They’re signing up because of a mixture of peer pressure, self-involvement, and a burning desire to look socially acceptable. It’s just one big experiment in groupthink.

Even worse than your average punters on the street are the click-hungry celebrities jumping on it as a piss-poor PR exercise and a way to appear remotely humble without actually stepping out of the limelight.

The sad irony behind all this is that I’m speaking as someone who actually did the Ice Bucket Challenge. And just as everyone else involved, I didn’t do it because I’m passionate about ALS. I did it to make it all about me.

My “ALS” video does everything it can to reinforce my poorly projected self-image of a shameless drunk. It’s about promoting me as an individual, as a character – worse… as a brand. The same is true of every Ice Bucket video (especially the celebrity ones). It’s not about how you want ALS to be perceived it’s about how you want to be perceived.

Still, at this point there will be a lot of people claiming that – regardless of individual intentions – the Ice Bucket Challenge has helped to raise a huge amount of awareness (if only in the same way as someone vomiting on themselves helps raise awareness of alcoholism). Even so, that awareness has ultimately helped to collect nearly $90 million for the ALS Association.

So, at the end of the day who cares if it’s degrading what traditional charity means? As long as it’s raising money for a good cause, the ends have justified the means.

Ironically, this is the same “ends justify the means” mentality which has allowed the ALS Association to continue their comprehensive animal testing programs.

Sadly, the majority of people undertaking the Ice Bucket Challenge have failed to research or even register this fact, or any background to the charity for that matter. Why? Because they don’t actually care about the charity! If they did, they’d be donating in their own time. What they care about is stripping down to their swimwear and making a video all about how kind, fun and caring they are.

If you would be interested in donating to a charity of your own selection, please visit CharityChoice.co.uk for a comprehensive list.

Alex Warren
Alex Warren
Miserablist, whiskey-drinker, and general tinpot shambles. Alex Warren has a weary pessimism for all things media, politics and tech.