Ice-Water Dunkings on Facebook Raise Awareness for ALS, But Also a Chilly Backlash


If you're active on social media, you've no doubt seen videos of people getting soaked with ice water appear with increasing frequency in your feeds over the past week so.

In what's known as the "Ice Bucket Challenge," participants get doused with buckets of ice water and then nominate others to receive the icy treatment and keep the cycle going—all in an effort to raise awareness for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), often referred to as Lou Gehrig's disease. Those who are nominated but refuse the challenge are asked to donate to ALS research instead. Donations from those who complete the challenge are encouraged as well.

The challenge gained its current popularity after Pete Frates, a former Boston College baseball player who was diagnosed with ALS in 2012, posted a video to his Facebook page encouraging the Boston community to join in the challenge. Since then, celebrities, athletes, elected officials and entire cities have taken part and tapped others to get involved.

As a communications strategy, the challenge appears to be working. "We are seeing 10 times the number of online donations every day," Carol Hamilton, development director of the ALS Therapy Development Institute, told the Boston Herald.

But all of the publicity has brought with it a round of cynicism. Critics of the campaign point out that people have heard all about the buckets of water and ice but know very little about the message behind them and even less about ALS, fearing that the point of the challenge has been lost.

As with any viral social phenomenon, the ALS ice bucket challenge will have an expiration date. The question moving forward will be how the ALS community continues the spike in awareness caused by the challenge, while dealing with people's potential disaffection with it.

Follow Brian Greene on Twitter: @bwilliamgreene

  • Steve Welchert

    It must be tough to wake up everyday such a cynic. Wow, now they have to “educate” people about ALS…where you see a “backlash” real pros see a welcome opportunity.