ALS Ice Bucket Challenge: Slacktivism or Activism?

"Slacktivism is an action performed via internet in support of a cause or issue that requires little time or involvement." Viral video and social media campaigns are the perfect tool for activism groups to get their cause known. The massive audiences mean that a message can spread quickly among millions of people. But there's a dark side of online social activism--many of these campaigns can be seen as slacktivism, essentially activism without any real action. Aside from awareness, are the participants of such campaigns eliciting change? These types of campaigns must be measured for effectiveness. What are the goals for the campaign and are they reaching them?

The most recent viral video and social media campaign the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge aims to raise ALS awareness. ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Those afflicted by the disease lose the ability to initiate and control muscle movement, eventually total paralysis will follow and then death.

The challenge asks people to choose between making a $100 donation to an ALS charity of their choice, or dousing themselves with a bucket of ice water on video, post it to their social media, nominate others to participate--but only donate $10. Monetary donations support The ALS Association's mission to find a cure for ALS and funding quality care for those living with ALS.

How do you measure the success of viral social campaigns like this? Does dumping ice over your head really have the power to instigate change? Or is this yet another slacktivist campaign that lets people and celebrities feel charitable in exchange for no actionable effort? Below is a timeline of new donors and monetary donations since the start of the viral video campaign.


July 29-August 12: $4 million donated, 70,000 new donors.

August 13: $5.7 million donated, 106,955 new donors.

August 14: $7.6 million donated, 145,918 new donors.

August 15: $9.5 million donated, 184,812 new donors.

August 16: $11.4 million donated, 220,255 new donors.

August 17: $13.3 million donated, 220,255 new donors.

August 18: $15.6 million donated, 307,598 new donors.

August 19: $22.9 million donated, 453,210 new donors.

August 20-Ongoing: $31.5 million donated, 637,527 new donors.

The internet is being flooded with the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge videos. They're everywhere. There is no doubt that awareness was raised. At first glance, the timeline shows an increase in new donors and monetary donations, a huge win for ALS sufferers! The ALS Association has increased the amounts of donations hand-over-fist compared to the same time period last year, and donations have surpassed the expected $10 million. They have made great strides and raised a lot of money for the cause.

However, it's worth thinking about where these donations are coming from. Some of the biggest celebrities, professional athletes, and tech giants in the world have participated in the challenge, the general public notwithstanding. So, why aren't monetary donations in the hundreds of Millions, or even Billions? The celebrities alone involved could easily have raised double or triple the $15 million figure without raising an eyebrow.

Throwing ice water on yourself is not going to solve a problem. The Ice Bucket Challenge campaign is increasingly becoming more about a bucket of water than where or why to donate to ALS. A call-to-action is the one thing that stands between slacktivism and activism. Without it you are just a person throwing ice water on yourself.

So what can you do with your next big viral campaign to ensure your message stays true? Make sure your call-to-action is integrated into the core idea. Make calling out the ALS charity you're donating to part of the personal challenge. Or include a detailed description of your personal connection to ALS with your video. It's so easy for the spirit of your campaign to get lost in the interpretations of millions of online viewers, make your call to action something memorable and integral to the participation process.

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