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Is the Ice Bucket Challenge helping or hindering the cause?

By Mal Fletcher - posted Friday, 29 August 2014

The ice bucket challenge has become a subject of not-so-icy debate in sections of the British media and press.

Is it a colossal waste of time – and water – or a genuine attempt to raise money and awareness about debilitating diseases?

The ice bucket challenge started life in the US, as a way of raising much-needed funds for research into a form of motor neurone disease. This disease weakens many of the muscles in the human body by changing the way the brains sends messages to them.


Once the challenge went viral via social media, however, charities representing other causes also became involved, including the MacMillan Cancer Support group in the UK. At one point, some of the original recipients of peoples' giving expressed annoyance that their funding was being diverted to these other causes.

The challenge demonstrates two things in particular. The first is peoples' willingness, even in relatively austere times, to invest in worthy causes, often in imaginative ways. So far it has raised £250,000 for the UK Motor Neurone Disease Association and £37.7 million for its equivalent organisation in the US.

The challenge also reflects the power of social media and how central they have become, in a very short space of time, to how we spread ideas and news.

Social media often play upon our capacity for social acculturation – or what we normally refer to as peer pressure. This is especially true of the visual social media. (It's hard to imagine the ice bucket challenge catching on had it been carried forward in written sentences, a la Twitter.)

Because we're social beings, we take many of our cues for behaviour – even unconsciously – from the social groups to which we belong.

Taking up the ice bucket challenge is a conscious response to a gentle form of peer group pressure, as one member challenges another to take part.


Within that, however, lies a potential danger – specifically, that we will eventually forget the cause behind the craze, so that we end up participating in a bizarre ritual without any real awareness as to why we're doing it.

Even now, many more people are talking more about ice buckets than motor neurone disease or cancer.

For a minority of people, particularly younger people, there are other latent pitfalls with this type of social media trend. There is, for example, the potential for taking things too far in a kind of internet one-upmanship.

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This article was first published on 2020PLUS.NET.

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About the Author

Mal Fletcher is a media social futurist and commentator, keynote speaker, author, business leadership consultant and broadcaster currently based in London. He holds joint Australian and British citizenship.

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