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The Ice Bucket Challenge

The Ice Bucket Challenge, sometimes called the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, is an activity involving dumping a bucket of ice water on one's head to promote awareness of the disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and encourage donations to research. It went viralthroughout social media during mid 2014.[1][2] In the United Kingdom, people also participate in the challenge for the Motor Neurone Disease Association.
The challenge dares nominated participants to be filmed having a bucket of ice water poured on their heads and challenging others to do the same. A common stipulation is that nominated people have 24 hours to comply or forfeit by way of a charitable financial donation.[3


The origins of the idea of dumping cold water on one's head to raise money for charity are unclear and have been attributed to multiple sources. From mid 2013 to early 2014, a challenge of unknown origin often called the "Cold Water Challenge" became popular on social media in areas of the Northern United States. The task usually involved the option of either donating money to cancer research or having to jump into cold water.[4]

One version of the challenge, which took place in New Zealand as early as July 7, 2014, involved dousing participants with cold water and then donating to a charity; for example, the Auckland Division of the Cancer Society.[5] As with similar challenges, it was usually filmed so footage can be shared online.

The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation popularized the "Cold Water Challenge" in early 2014 to raise funds as an unsanctioned spin-off of the polar plunge most widely used by Special Olympics as a fundraiser.[6] On May 20, 2014 the Washington Township, New Jersey fire department posted a video on YouTube participating in the "Cold Water Challenge" with fire hoses. Participating members of the department were subsequently punished for using fire department equipment without permission.[7]

The challenge first received increased media attention in the United States on June 30, 2014, when personalities of the program Morning Drive, which airs weekdays on Golf Channel, televised the social-media phenomenon, and performed a live, on-air Ice Bucket Challenge.[8]Soon after, the challenge was brought to mainstream audiences when television anchor Matt Lauer did the Ice Bucket Challenge on July 15, 2014 on NBC's The Today Show at Greg Norman's request.[9][10] On the same day, golfer Chris Kennedy did the challenge and then challenged his cousin Jeanette Senerchia of Pelham, NY, whose husband, Anthony, has had ALS for 11 years. A day later she did the challenge while her 6-year-old daughter filmed her in front of their house. Senerchia's network on Facebook connected with Pat Quinn, a 31-year-old in Yonkers, NY, who was diagnosed with ALS in March 2013. Quinn called upon his friends and family. Soon, his whole network was posting challenges, including family in Florida, friends in Ireland and Greece, and a bar full of locals, which was broadcast on local television.[citation needed]

Local Green Bay radio and TV personality John Maino performs the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. 
Quinn's Facebook network overlapped with Massachusetts resident and former Boston College baseball player Pete Frates, who has ALSand began posting about the challenge on Twitter.[11] Frates is a well-known patient advocate in the ALS community, having been awarded the Stephen Heywood Patients Today award in 2012 for his fundraising and advocacy work nicknamed the "Frate Train".[12] Frates' Boston College and sporting connections became an initial focus of the challenge and strengthened its focus on ALS.[13] In the following weeks,many celebrities and notable individuals also took the challenge.

The President of the United States, Barack Obama, was challenged by Ethel Kennedy but declined, opting to contribute to the campaign with a donation of $100.[14] Justin Bieber,[15] LeBron James,[16] and "Weird" Al Yankovic[17] also challenged President Obama after completing the Ice Bucket Challenge. Former president George W. Bush completed the challenge and nominated Bill Clinton.[18]

On August 21, 2014, several firefighters in Campbellsville, KY were injured by electric shock, including one critically, when the ladder they were using to spray the school band for the Ice Bucket Challenge came too close to a high-voltage power line.[19]

Within 24 hours of being challenged, participants are to video record themselves in continuous footage. First, they are to announce their acceptance of the challenge followed by pouring ice into a bucket of water. The bucket is then to be lifted overhead and poured over the participant's head. Then the participant can call out a challenge to other people.

Whether people choose to donate, perform the challenge, or do both varies. In one version of the challenge, the participant is expected to donate $10 if they have poured the ice water over their head or donate $100 if they have not.[20] In another version, dumping the ice water over the participant's head is done in lieu of any donation, which has led to some criticisms of the challenge being a form of slacktivism.[21] Many individual videos include the participant saying that they will be making a donation as well as performing the challenge.[citation needed]

In mid 2014, the Ice Bucket Challenge went viral on social media and became a pop culture phenomenon, particularly in the United States, with numerous celebrities, politicians, athletes, and everyday Americans posting videos of themselves online and on TV participating in the event.[3][14] According to The New York Times people shared more than 1.2 million videos on Facebook between June 1 and August 13 and mentioned the phenomenon more than 2.2 million times on Twitter since July 29.[22] Mashable called the phenomenon "the Harlem Shake of the summer".[9]

Prior to the widespread internet sensation of the Ice Bucket Challenge, public awareness of the disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) was relatively limited; the ALS Association state that prior to the challenge going viral only half of Americans had heard of the disease,[22]often referred to as "Lou Gehrig's disease", after baseball great Lou Gehrig who publicly revealed his diagnosis.

After the Ice Bucket Challenge went viral on social media, public awareness and charitable donations to ALS charities soared. On August 21, 2014, The New York Times reported that the ALS Association had received $41.8 million in donations from July 29 until August 21. More than 739,000 new donors have given money to the association, which is more than double the $19.4 million in total contributions the association received during the year that ended January 31, 2013.[23] Similarly, the ALS Therapy Development Institutereported a ten-fold increase in donations relative to the same period in 2014,[24] with over 2,000 donations made in a single day on August 20, 2014, while Project ALS reported a 50-fold increase.[25] In the United Kingdom, people have also been facing the challenge for the Motor Neurone Disease Association. The Motor Neurone Disease (MND) Association is the only national charity in England, Wales and Northern Ireland focused on MND care, research and campaigning.[26] MND Scotland provides care and support to everyone affected by Motor Neurone Disease in Scotland.[27]


A number of criticisms have arisen relating to the campaign, accusing it of being self-congratulatory,[28] focusing primarily on fun rather than donating money to charity, and as an example of substituting a trivial activity for more genuine involvement in charitable activities. William MacAskill, Vice-President of Giving What We Can, suggested that the challenge encouraged moral licensing, meaning that some people might use taking part in the challenge as a substitute for other charitable acts. He also proposed that by attracting donations for ALS, the challenge was "cannibalizing" potential donations that otherwise would have gone to other charities instead.[29]

Steve-O questioned the campaign, suggesting that celebrities' videos generally forgot to share donation information for ALS charities, and that the initial $15 million dollars in funds was insignificant, given the star power of the celebrities participating. He noted that, of the videos he viewed, only Charlie Sheen and Bill Gates noted that the point is to donate money.[30]

Pamela Anderson refused to take part in the challenge because the use of animal experimentation in ALS research.[31] Members of the pro-life movement criticised the campaign because of the connection between embryonic stem cell research and ALS research.[32]

On August 22, 2014, Brian O'Neill, a physician at the Detroit Medical Center, warned that the challenge may have adverse health effects on participants, including potentially inducing a vagal response which might, for example, lead to unconsciousness in people taking blood pressure medications.[33]

Criticism also targeted the waste of water.[34]

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