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Ice bucket challenge campaign flawed

Credit: Alison Chiu/Advertising Staff Member Credit: Alison Chiu/Advertising Staff Member
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Unless you have been living in a cave for the last few weeks, you are likely very familiar with the viral ice-bucket challenge that has taken Facebook by storm. Chances are you’ve watched videos of people who have dumped large buckets of ice water onto their heads with little idea of why they were doing it besides impressing a few friends. Everyone from Bill Gates to former President George W. Bush has taken part in the challenge. I myself took the plunge.

Along with the $10,000 worth of cash that Charlie Sheen dumped over his head, the ALS Association (ASLA) has managed to raise over $41.8 million as of Aug. 21. However, while significant, it is only 0.01 percent of the total $416.5 billion that Americans donated to charitable organizations last year.

This low donation rate shows one of the major flaws with viral social media campaigns. As Malcolm Gladwell acknowledges in the The New Yorker, “the platforms of social media are built around weak ties.” Weak ties are created with those that you follow on Facebook, but would not otherwise stay in touch with. A network of weak ties is extremely effective in spreading information or, in this case, videos of people pouring ice over their heads. As of Aug. 15, 1.2 million ice bucket challenge videos have been uploaded and 15 million people have talked about it. In addition to these numbers, we can assume that a large portion of the 757 million daily users that Facebook reports have in some way been exposed to the challenge.

However, according to The New York Times, only 739,000 new donors have emerged as a result of the challenge. This shows a less fortunate effect of the weak-tie network. While members are usually willing to join a Facebook page or post a status about a cause, they are often not willing to give a significant contribution to that cause. People invest themselves very little in most of the things they see on social media networks.

Prior to taking the ice bucket challenge, a friend that I asked to record me asked if I knew anything about the ALSA, at which time I realized I had little idea about it and was about to take part in a challenge supporting it. He then wisely forced me to prepare a paragraph at the beginning of my video explaining what ALS was, so I did not join the thousands, if not millions, of people that took part in this challenge that were completely clueless about ALS.

The ice bucket challenge has brought people from around the world together to raise funding and fight against a disease that no one should have to experience. Overall, it has been a successful campaign. However, we must accept it for what it is: a viral campaign. Viral campaigns are an amazing way to spread information in the virtual world, but if one wants to make a real difference, it is necessary to spread information in the real world.