News & Analysis

Before you label the ALS ‘ice-bucket’ challenge as ‘Slacktivism’ check out these numbers

- August 18, 2014 2 MIN READ
Bill Gates

If you have a presence on, well, any social media channel, you probably would have seen at least one person you know in the last couple of weeks participating in the ‘ice-bucket’ challenge aimed at raising awareness for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). It is also often referred to as ‘Lou Gehrig’s Disease’,  and is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects the brain and spinal cord. It’s awful and not nearly enough information is known about it right now.

The challenge asks people to dump a bucket of ice-cold water on their head then nominate three more people in their network to do the same or donate $100 to the cause, and has been happening for a good few weeks now. However, it’s only been in the last week that the challenge has started to spread through Silicon Valley with players such as Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) Bill Gates (Microsoft) and Elon Musk (Tesla, SpaceX) all participating; and now it is making its way through the Australian tech sector.

Over the weekend co-founder of Atlassian, Mike Cannon-Brookes accepted the challenge and has now challenged Mick Liubinskas (Muru-D), Dean McEvoy (Icon Park) and Niki Scevak (Blackbird Ventures and Startmate) to do the same by Monday. You can check out Mike’s slo-mo ice-dumping here:


Like with anything, the social media driven campaign has been met with criticism, many labelling the act as ‘slacktivism’ that isn’t doing anything to actually help the cause. Whilst I do think that many social media campaigns DO promote a ‘slacktivist’ culture, the numbers around the ALS challenge speak for themselves proving that the campaign is working, and is producing much better results than anyone had anticipated.

The first thing we should note, is that the campaign IS actually raising awareness about ALS. Until I saw Mark Zuckerberg do the challenge and decided to research what it was, I had never even heard of the disease. Anything that encourages people seeking knowledge and discussing the disease is good for the mission to find a cure.

The second point that needs to be made is that financially the ALS Association have been raising some major money. As of last Thursday, over 150,000 new donors had given to the cause, and since July 29 over USD$5.5 million has been raised for ALS research – the same period of time last year saw just USD$32,000 in donations.

So where exactly did the ice-bucket challenge originate from though?

Originally the challenge came from New Zealand through a page set up on July 4th this year aimed at raising money for the Cancer Society; that version of the challenge spread quite quickly throughout Australia. On July 15th in the United States was when golfer Chris Kennedy did the challenge and nominated his cousin, Jeanette Senerchia whose husband has ALS. From there, other people connected with ALS were nominated and eventually reached Pete Frates, a college basketball player who also has ALS. It was a combination of these key players that tipped the challenge into the social media sensation it currently is.

So far Facebook has said that the ALS ice-challenge has been discussed over 15 million times across the site.