Jay Little - Software Obsessionist
The Dilemma of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

8/22/2014 3:03:58 AM

So if you haven't been living under a rock, you've probably noticed that over the last few weeks the internet has been awash with people jumping on the "ALS Ice Bucket Challenge" train . Over the same period of time, I've made a number of comments in various online venues which have indicated my distaste for this trend. A number of people have asked me to explain why I feel this way. So be it.

Let's dispense with the more unpleasant guesses some you may have up front, so as to not keep the political correct people from getting too bored. I do not have a specific problem with the ALS Association . The charity has great ratings and the level of compensation their CEO receives isn't mind-blowingly idiotic. In addition, I have no problem with raising money for fighting against ALS. I had an uncle-in-law who died of ALS, which his doctors speculated was a direct result of his exposure to Agent Orange while in Vietnam, so yeah ALS is a big deal. If you don't think so, watch somebody die from it.

So what exactly is my problem then? Well a large part of it revolves around the nature of the challenge itself. As a veteran resident of the internet, I am only too well acquainted with the endless stream idiotic fads that have coursed through it's ever-widening veins. The ALS Ice Bucket challenge reminds me in a particular of a trend known as the internet chain letter. Remember those? Ahhh yes long gone are the days of receiving a message from a less than competent friend which read a bit like this:

Send this to ten friends in the next 24 hours or something bad will happen to you

Alternate versions claim something good will happen to you as a result of meeting the demand. In any event the ALS Ice Bucket challenge utilizes this same basic tactic that I have come to despise over the years. Only in this case when somebody challenges you it's more like:

Dump ice on your head or give $100 to the ALS Association in the next 24 hours.

How does this raise awareness? Well most of the videos I've seen barely even mention ALS much less mention donating to the ALS Association. A few of them have actually gotten the cause wrong. Though not a single one of them has attempted to explain anything to anybody about ALS itself. This is a real problem, because unless somebody actually goes to the charity website to give, they probably still won't actually know what ALS is even if they've managed to stomach watching a few dozen of these videos.

So no it's not really raising awareness. Though to be fair it is raising money. The ALS Association has seen a real increase in their level of donations which is a good thing. I just wonder how many more donations they'd be seeing if they had endeavored to find a more informative way to get the word out. As it stands now they are really depending upon the general competence of the public to both spread the word and point would-be philanthropists in the right direction. In my experience if your plan assumes that the average person is competent, it is doomed to fail (though I am a jaded software developer, so your mileage may vary there). Bottom line: Lots of people are fucking it up and most of the people watching the video evidence of those fuck ups still don't know what ALS is. Though one thing is for certain: People are only to happy to dump ice on themselves while challenging others to do the same regardless of the cause.

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