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What do Kermit the Frog, Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey have in common? They have all tipped buckets of iced water over themselves to raise money for ALS (or Motor Neurone Disease as it is commonly known in Australia.)
It is difficult to recall a fundraising effort that has harnessed the reach of social media so completely and one wonders if, without Youtube, the Ice Bucket Challenge would still be enjoying momentum throughout schools, businesses, governments, and families the world over. The challenge has raised over US$100 million in the United States and more than $2.2 million in Australia of which $1.2 million will fund research and $1 million will help support patients and their families. Motor Neurone Australia’s Victorian fund-raising manager, Kathy Nightingale has said while the challenge had provided a wonderful and unexpected boost it was a phenomenon that may never be repeated.
The Challenge first received media attention in the U.S. in June 2014 when hosts of the Golf Channel’s Morning Drive program performed a live on-air Ice Bucket Challenge. Since that time celebrities, sports personalities, United States Presidents past and present and prominent business people have all accepted the challenge and been filmed dousing themselves in support of sufferers of Motor Neurone Disease. Importantly, they then nominate another three people to take the challenge.
By mid-2014 the challenge was a social media phenomenon as videos of participants, some famous, many not, went viral. According to the New York Times, people shared more than 1.2 million videos on Facebook between June 1 and August 13 and mentioned the challenge more than 2.2 million times on Twitter between July 29 and August 17.
During the Challenge hits to Wikipedia’s article on Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis grew from an average of 8,000 hits per day to a peak of over 430,000, yet while awareness of MND has benefitted, studies have shown that the majority of participants do not actually donate. In the United Kingdom an astonishing one in every six people has participated but only ten percent of participants have actually donated according to the Charities Aid Foundation. While the percentage is higher in the U.S, the vast majority still do not donate to the charity.
The ultimate platform for free speech and self- expression, as with many internet phenomena, for every supporter there is an equally vocal critic and the Challenge has had more than a few. Like so many other charitable endeavours, criticism has been levelled at the use of funds and the charity behind the ALS Challenge in the United States has been forced to post counter-arguments and corrections to articles published online that criticise the ALS Association and the challenge. Closer to home, The Australian recently asked readers to consider if the challenge is little more than a giant selfie where shirtless celebrities are quick to pose but neglect to mention the name of the charity or how to donate to it. Such reservations have given rise to a #noIceBucketChallenge hash tag trending on Twitter along with a series of memes questioning its merits. Perhaps the last word should go to actor Matt Damon( who kept his shirt on) and poured toilet water over himself saying “the water in our toilets in the West is cleaner that the water most people in the developing world have access to,” using the Challenge to raise awareness of his own charitable endeavour, Water.Org.