The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge – what do viral video campaigns say about today’s society?

By now we’ve all seen countless people do the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, and have probably done it ourselves – unless you’re like me and were a poor sport and didn’t do it once nominated. And I think a poor sport is an apt label, as I was simply just a little lazy and did not feel that compelled to partake. I think as of late we have all seen our Facebook feeds return to normal, back to articles form Huffington Post and selfies of drunken partiers. But what exactly was that phenomena that captured our attention for the month of August, and how do we make sense of it? More importantly, what does the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, and similar campaigns, say about today’s culture and those in the days to come?

Laurier student Kyra Zahn pours ice water over Chris Boone, as part of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Photo by Cody Hoffman

Don’t get me wrong: I am not here to hate on a good cause. I think it is amazing how much money was fundraised for such a little-known disease. Indeed it is times like this when the Internet really seems to make a difference in our lives, and make the world seem a little less big. This is definitely a good thing, as any time that we bond and connect with those around us is a positive step, and all sorts of opportunities open up. Yes the world may be more “me-first” than ever, yet never before have we been so close to each other in a social sense.

Of course I am not ignoring the other side of this issue, what you could even call the Internet’s “dark side.”Some people enjoy commenting negatively just because they can. The irony in complaining about people making these videos, in saying things like, “If they care about ALS so much why do they have to make a video,” or, “Why don’t they give to a cause that is actually in need” is not lost on any of us. At least they are trying, however misled you may think, to do good.

Photo by Cody Hoffman

This is one of the bigger issues that sums up the use of the Internet in today’s culture. It is a platform for people to do immense good, yet spew endless amounts of cowardly hate. And it appears it is not going to go away. Trends like the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and Kony 2012 and Neknominations before it seem to be the tip of the iceberg. In fact, if you don’t see a new charity popping up with similar campaigns every month I will be very surprised. And they might as well, as they are infectious, successful, and very easy to participate in. But if these challenges are here to stay, and so are the haters, than what can be done to make the going less tumultuous? How can we stop these viral sensations from their inevitable burn-out?

I do not have the exact answer, but I think if guilt was removed from the equation we would all benefit. If we all felt free to not participate if we did not feel like giving to the cause, it would eliminate the bashing that takes away from the cause, and would make the actual successes more genuine. No good comes from Leonardo DiCaprio posting a video in Fort McMurray and nominating the president of Syncrude and Prime Minister Stephen Harper, like it is some personal vendetta and he just got them good. That is simply one person taking advantage of a worthy cause for the good of his own agenda. Whatever your thoughts on it, we can all agree that it is only a matter of time before the next thing comes along. These video campaigns are here to stay, so let’s stay positive, and more importantly, stay critical.

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