The Challenges Behind The Ice Bucket Challenge

by Lyonne16 on April 7, 2015 - 2:00pm

            During the summer of 2014, a new phenomenon quickly took hold of all social media platforms: the Ice Bucket Challenge. The objective of this new “trend” was to raise awareness against ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The idea was simple; you either donated money to the ALS Association or filmed yourself getting soaked by a bucket full of freezing ice water and uploaded the video to any social media. As a result, the association’s charity campaign was immensely successful and raised $115 million (“ALS Ice Bucket Challenge- FAQ”). However, given the magnitude of the impact of the #icebucketchallenge, several criticisms arose against the new campaign, some of which include the funding of embryonic stem cell research and animal testing, peer-pressure, and “slacktivism.” Nevertheless, this paper will primarily focus on the ethical nature of the challenge (i.e. water usage and charity narcissism) and how morally sound it stands.   

            As soon as one goes on to the official site of the ice bucket challenge, and scrolls down, the following warning appears, “Please be thoughtful about water usage. If you’re in an area of the country or world affected by drought, please consider making a donation instead, or repurpose the water for later use” (“The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge”). The association is aware of this water issue and admits it may cause problems in certain cases. Indeed, the challenge has been denounced world-widely for wasting water and thus showing disrespect to those that do not possess the same resources. According to a calculation made by the Washington Post back in August 2014, an average of 5 million gallons of water had been lost to this challenge (Samenow). Hence, the hashtag #droughtshaming circulating on Twitter intended for Californians that waste water, now targets those that take active part in the challenge. Moreover, a meme that denounces the ethical nature of the challenge appeared on social media, where a young African child dubiously says: “So, let me get this straight, you waste clean water as a challenge, in order to avoid raising money for charity” (Hill). Evidently, the campaign seems to have provoked quite a few criticisms.  However, considering that an American uses an estimated 320 gallons of water per day, the total 5 million gallons seems like a relatively derisory small number (Hill). Furthermore, considering the extent to which the campaign was successful in raising awareness and gathering funds, it feels like a small price to pay for people to take action and spread the word about ALS. Consequently, the Environmental Protection Agency said: “EPA fully supports the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. The agency would also encourage participants to be creative in utilizing water, such as holding the challenge in a garden that needs watering, or finding ways to capture water for reuse” (Hill). For instance, one could do like Matt Damon, co-founder of, who used toilet water for the challenge to raise awareness for both his non-profit organization and the ALS Association: “Keep in mind that the water in our toilets in the West is actually cleaner than the water that most people in the developing world have access to” (Grossman). Thus, ideally, the water should not be used solely for the challenge. However, the positive outcomes far outweigh the unfavorable components of the campaign.  But why use a vital resource like water in the first place?

            Undoubtedly, the campaign would not have been nearly as successful had it not incorporated the water stunt. Indeed, it received almost 50 times the donations of previous less paying year (Dewey). The challenge appears as a sort of self-exhibition and bragging video, more centered on the act of pouring ice water than the cause itself. In short, what seems to be an altruistic action really is a narcissist one in many cases, uploaded online for everyone to see, comment, and mimic. However, given that everything seems to go through social media, and egotistical behaviors are on the rise in Western Society, the marketing strategy of the campaign was extremely adequate and gave outstanding results. By the end of summer 2014, almost everyone around the globe had heard of ALS. Yet, how many actually know what these initials stand for? Like Slate’s journalist, Will Oremus, said: “As for “raising awareness,” few of the videos I’ve seen contain any substantive information about the disease, why the money is needed, or how it will be used….The ice bucket videos feel like an exercise in raising awareness of one’s own zaniness, altruism, and/or attractiveness in a wet T-shirt.” Do the participants truly understand the meaning of the ice bucket challenge or are they just following the new trends of the Net and showing off their “charitable” side? The intent behind each individual video remains unknown for the most part. It is almost impossible to predict the motives of the participants, who might not know them themselves. Still, the campaign has undeniably been effective in advertising the ALS Association, taking advantage of social media to do so. From a teleological perspective, the positive consequences of the campaign compensate for the intention of each partaker and thus renders this campaign as ethical.      

            Finally, although the Ice Bucket Challenge gave rise to many controversies, its main objectives were essentially attained: raising some awareness about ALS and receiving donations. In the end, all the association wanted to achieve was to fund researches to try and find a cure to the disease. However, I remain certain that one can participate in the challenge and still do so in an ethical way like re-using the water from the bucket and talking about the disease itself in the video, but in a quick manner. We must keep in mind that the new generations are constantly in a hurry looking for the next best fad, yet a moment or two to become informed about a life-threatening disease such as ALS can certainly always be spared. 

“ALS Ice Bucket Challenge- FAQ.” ALSA. ALS Association, n.d. Web. 6 Apr. 2015.

Dewey, Caitlin. “Stop Hating on The Ice Bucket Challenge- It’s Raised Millions of Dollars for Charity.” The Washington Post. 1996-2015 The Washington Post. 12 Aug. 2014. Web. 6 Apr. 2015.

Grossman, Samantha. “Matt Damon Uses Toilet Water For His Ice Bucket Challenge.” 2015 Time Inc. 26 Aug. 2014. Web. 6 Apr. 2015.

Hill, Kashmir. “Ideas For Charities That Missed Out On The Ice Bucket Challenge.” Forbes. 2015 LLC. 18 Aug. 2014. Web. 6 Apr. 2015.

Oremus, Will. “Take the ‘No Ice Bucket Challenge.’” Slate Group LLC. Graham Holdings Company.  12 Aug. 2014. Web. 6 Apr. 2015.

Samenow, Jason. “How Much Water has Been Used in the Ice Bucket Challenge?” The Washington Post. 1996-2015 The Washington Post. 18 Aug. 2014. Web. 6 Apr. 2015.

“The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.” ALSA. ALS Association, n.d. Web. 6 Apr. 2015.

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