Ice Bucket Challenge: Do the Annoying Videos Actually Add Up to Donations?

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It seems the Internet gives birth to a meme every summer. But unlike the “Harlem Shake,” “Gangnam Style” or “Call Me Maybe,” this one’s for a good cause.

The origin of the “ice bucket challenge” is questionable, but the execution is simple: Grab a camera, hit “record,” film yourself (or your friends) dumping a bucket of ice water on your body and upload it to the Internet. Then challenge others to do the same.

Millions of people have done it, with more than 1.2 million videos uploaded to Facebook alone. The intention is to raise awareness of Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, a neurological disease that impacts nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. Some 30,000 Americans are said to be afflicted with the disease, which attacks the central nervous system and leads to difficulty in speaking, breathing and moving.

Those who are challenged by their peers to participate in the ice bucket phenomenon are given one of two avenues: Film themselves dumping ice water on their body or donate $100 to the ALS Association. So far, wealthy celebrities, athletes and public figures — including NBC newsman Matt Lauer, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, talk show host Oprah Winfrey and Microsoft’s Bill Gates — have accepted the challenge.

Critics have argued that while those who take the ice bucket challenge have noble intentions, it does little to “raise awareness” of the charity. One Slate writer even proposed a “no ice bucket challenge,” encouraging readers to skip the viral sensation and “just donate the damn money.”

But the ALS Association could not be more thrilled to find the Internet enthralled in the latest summer meme. According to the association, more than $4 million in charitable contributions have rolled in since the challenge went viral more than two weeks ago. That’s four times the amount of contributions made at this same time last year, the association said.

“We have never seen anything like this in the history of the disease,” association president Barbara Newhouse said in a press release. “We couldn’t be more thrilled with the level of compassion, generosity and sense of humor that people are exhibiting as they take part in this impactful viral initiative.”

Newhouse points out that ALS is “100 percent fatal” and that only one FDA-approved drug exists to treat — not cure — symptoms associated with the disease. Even so, the drug Rilutek “only modestly extends survival by two to three months,” Newhouse notes.

The money raised from the ice bucket challenge as well as other endeavors will be used to help ALS collaborate with other organizations to raise awareness about the disease, as well as to coordinate with pharmaceutical companies in order to “expedite new treatments for people impacted” by ALS, Newhouse says.

That was always the intention behind one of the individuals responsible for taking the ice bucket challenge viral. In a video posted to Facebook last December, Peter Frates — a former Boston College baseball player who was stricken with the disease in 2012 — made the case that the only way to fight the disease was to raise awareness of it.

“The story right now goes, you’ve got ALS, have it for a little while, a long while, but either way, the end is always the same: ALS always wins,” Frates said. “So in order to rewrite the end of it, we need to raise awareness, money.”

Matthew Keys is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.

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