ALS Ice Bucket challenge sweeps social media

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Abby Kempf

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has made quite a splash since its beginnings in July, raising more than $100 million for the cause and spreading awareness of the disease.
Sophomore Gabbi Schust dumped the frigid water on her head when she was nominated by a friend to take the dare, despite her intuitions.
“I got challenged and I obviously knew it would be cold, but it was just freezing cold,” Schust said. “I felt like my whole body was in shock.”
The challenge is simply for the subject to have someone dump a bucket full of ice water on his/her head and to nominate a few others to do the same in the next 24 hours; if they fail to do this, they can instead choose to make a donation to the ALS foundation.

ALS challenge
art by Ellie Stitzer
ALS stands for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis and is commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease. This fatal disease is characterized by muscle degeneration, which leads to difficulty speaking, swallowing, and breathing.
Over time, the patient loses the ability to walk and talk, while cognitive function lingers until the very end, making the disease especially excruciating for the patient and family members. Death from respiratory failure normally occurs three to five years from the diagnosis. At the time, there is no known cure for ALS, but there are many research facilities in place for the sole purpose of finding a cure for the devastating disease.
The largest organization in the United States searching for a cure is the ALS Association. It has chapters, clinics and research centers set up all over the country for the purpose of conducting new research, providing care for ALS patients and supporting their families.
Sherrie Hanneman, the director of communications for the Keith Worthington Chapter of the ALS Association serving Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri, said the challenge has been a tremendous surprise to everyone at the Association.
“When it first happened, I thought it was just another one of those social media things that you see, like eating a tablespoon full of cinnamon. I thought it was kind of a funny thing, and I was surprised when it started to take off,” Hanneman said. “After a couple weeks, it continued to gain steam and then after we got to ten or twenty million dollars. I thought it had run its course, but it didn’t. It just exploded.”
Due to the challenge, Hanneman said that ALS Association saw a 60 to 70 percent increase in donations during the past month and a half.
“It started as a way for people to raise a little money for [the] ALS Association and then it became bigger and then it took on a life of its own,” Hanneman said. “On a national level we are still seeing a couple million dollars come in each day. The staying power of it is what has been really interesting.”
However, Hanneman said the donations are not the only thing the association is excited about. She said the national attention the disease has gained is priceless.
“What was really interesting about it was there was a phenomenon that went along with it. It was not just a dumping a bucket of water over your head, it was making sure you were making your donation too,” Hanneman said. “Then making sure that…you learn something about the disease, familiarize yourself with what you’re giving to, why you’re giving, who you’re giving to. There was a big awareness piece that went along with it.”
Social media enabled the challenge to grow. With the ease in which people consume media, trends like the Ice Bucket Challenge can easily take off exponentially as one person nominates a few people and then those people nominate a few more people.
But as everyone knows from playing “telephone” in the third grade, sometimes the original message gets lost after it’s been passed along too many times. For some, the challenge turned into a big show instead of supporting the real cause behind the challenge.
Scrolling down her Instagram feed late August, Schust can count more Ice Bucket Challenge videos than photos. Schust feels that most people who take the challenge have superficial intentions instead of truly being motivated to spread awareness of ALS and help raise money for research.
“It was really just an exercise in how much pull one has with their friends on social media,” Schust said.
Junior Sean Garfias said he feels some animosity toward the fad as well. Garfias’ grandmother is currently battling ALS, and he feels the challenge is not serving its original purpose.
“Most people I know still have no idea what ALS even is. I feel like now it’s just an obnoxious way to get attention,” Garfias said. “I’m sure that’s not for everyone, and I do know some people that have donated money. However, from what I’ve seen, it hasn’t completely fulfilled it’s purpose.”
Hanneman recognizes how social media can twist things or spread misinformation, but said her mood is not dampened by this.
“Social media is what it is. There is a reason why social media is a fun, mindless thing. But there is also a really important aspect of it,” Hanneman said. “It got people thinking about it. People who are actually interested who took the time to go to more credible sites learned a lot.”
Hanneman also said the actual patients, the beneficiaries of the challenge, love it. Despite the outliers who see dumping a bucket of ice water on one’s head as foolish, the challenge has been able to bring some joy to the lives of many patients.
“Probably 90 percent of the people … were excited about what was going on. Some people felt like maybe it was silly, or that people were just trying to get in on the celebrity craze,” Hanneman said. “But for the most part [patients] didn’t care. They were just like, ‘for once, people are talking about this disease and we are not suffering all by ourselves in silence.’ It was great from our perspective.”