Thank Humanity for the Ice Bucket Challenge

By Jack Peat, Editor of The London Economic 

In the aftermath of the Ukraine War, yet another Gaza conflict and the ongoing crisis in Iraq it’s easy to feel a little glum about the state of humanity in 2014.

More than 2,500 people have died in Ukraine this year, more than 1,400 in Gaza and the Iraqi civilian death toll recently passed 5,500 in wake of an Isis offensive. The wars have highlighted the strong, often fanatical, political and religious beliefs that exist today and threaten to overspill into global crisis at any point. The Ukraine crisis prompted Vladmir Putin to threaten nuclear war with the west and Isis continues to gain support on the Islamic side of what has long been one of the world’s most harrowing fault lines with Christianity.

These seismic events of the past year puts pouring a bucket of ice on your head into perspective. Getting drenched in your garden while your friends burst into fits of laughter as they film you on a smartphone is all rather trivial placed next to the firing lines in Iraq, the political persecution in Ukraine and the young children who died on beaches in Gaza. But in many ways it has served as a reminder that even in times of conflict and uncertainty it wasn’t the barbaric messages of war that took over our social media feeds for the past few weeks but good will in a bucket, and in many ways, that makes it just as important.

Good Will in a Social Media Age

After weeks of frenzied ice chucking statisticians have finally had a moment to calculate the impact the viral ice bucket campaign has had on the social media world and associate charities. Some 2.4 million ice bucket-related videos were posted on Facebook and a massive 28 million people have uploaded, commented on or liked ice bucket-related posts. Without taking the charity component of the Ice Bucket Challenge into consideration, this alone highlights the power of friendship that is being harnessed like never before through the power of social media.

Then there’s the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Association. A charity few people had ever heard of before received $98.2 million on  the back of global donations with the British equivalent, the Motor Neurone Disease Association, also benefited from the global charitable effort. As well as Macmillan Cancer Support (raised £3 million from challenges), Water Aid (received £47,000 in one day) and a host of other charities raising money from the ALS challenge, it has raised awareness about donating to charity in general and the ability of social media to help achieve charitable goals.


Unfortunately the Ice Bucket Challenge has become a victim of its own success. A viral campaign will always be subject to criticisms and this one is no different. William MacAskill, Vice-President of Giving What We Can, accused the Ice Bucket Challenge of “funding cannibalism” and  professional wrestler Lance Storm noted that the potential uses of donated funds by the ALS Association are likely to be ‘wasted’ on promotion and advertising of ALS. Pamela Anderson even chipped in about the use of animal experimentation in ALS research.

Then there was criticisms about the focus being on performing the stunt rather than donating money, a bit like the Neknominate viral campaign that pickled a few livers but achieved little else. Considering the huge sums of money that were donated this hardly seems applicable. The ‘misuse of water’ arguments are also narrow minded. Water Aid benefited significantly from people throwing ice over their heads, most of whom conducted the challenge in regions where water shortages are not an issue.

The Benefit to Humanity 

Most criticisms seem to stem from charitable element of the Ice Buck Challenge, which seems a bitter and perverse approach to me, but however justified they might be the one element of the ALS Challenge that has been overlooked is the human aspect. Friends sharing with friends, people giving to other people. It may not be the Blitz Spirit of World War II, but in such uncertain times, perhaps we’ve been a bit naive in overlooking what this really means; while thousands are engaged in conflict, millions are actively pursuing peace.

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