A scene from Flashdance 2: The Fundraiser
I’m a big fan of the ALS Ice-bucket Challenge.
From the point-of-view of an aspiring (at times: failed, frustrated) copywriter, the Ice-bucket challenge was an effective digital campaign. It easily went viral, thanks to the click-bait appeal of seeing your favorite celebrities pour ice-cold water on themselves, and then nominate other famous celebrities to do the same within 24 hours, or donate to charity. It’s like the best Celebrity Pyramid Scheme ever.
Some criticize the Ice-bucket Challenge for taking the spotlight off ALS, (or Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease), or for “stealing attention” from other more prevalent diseases.
But I’m not here to argue the validity of these points. Rather, I’m here to discuss how the Ice-Bucket Challenge (IBC) changed the face of activism.
3. It showed us the power of “likes” and “shares” in promoting a movement.
It seems far-fetched to connect ice cubes to activism, like trying to connect binge-eating fajitas to the Occupy movement.
However, if we accept that activism’s goal is to promote social or economic change — in its rawest form, to “make a difference” — then we can see how the IBC fulfilled this: it brought an obscure, unknown condition to public consciousness, and revitalized funding for ALS research. Near the end of August, the ALS foundation had a cool $22.9-M in donations, compared to a paltry $1.9-M the same period last year.
Not bad, for a movement others consider “juvenile” or “stupid”.
How was this possible? Through the unlikeliest method: social media sharing.
Remember those depressing FB posts with pictures of children in war or famine-stricken areas, where the post-maker had the gall to include the caption “1 share = 1 prayer”? Sorry but those things do nothing, no matter how much you abuse the “share” button. You’d be better off personally praying for the kid, or actually donating to charity than to think that your “share” can alleviate the child’s condition.
The assumption is that “sharing” magically sends a prayer to God’s FB wall, as if God doesn’t have anything better to do than to browse Facebook all day:
“Wow, already 22 million shares? Hmm I better do something about that famine!”
But with the IBC, your “shares” actually does something. It promotes ALS awareness and adds another coating to the snowball, making it big enough to reach those in the capacity to donate big, like Bill Gates and other millionaire-philanthropists.
How did it go supernova in such a short time? By having a highly shareable content, thanks to the presence of celebrities. You wouldn’t think twice about sharing a video of a drenched Tom Hiddleston, or a soaking Iggy Azalea, would you? Half of the internet does that on their free time, sans charity.
“…And your fedora looks stupid too!”
I can only imagine the pressure celebrities feel upon being nominated, knowing that all eyes are on them. It’s like Biff calling Marty McFly “chicken”, except this time, you have a whole crowd watching what you do next, each one with an MA in Internet Bashing.
In short, “shares” and “likes” can make your activist movement big enough to reach the doorsteps of the politicians/leaders you want to target. Just try ignoring the knock of something a million people support.
2. It gave us a template for future demonstrations
Rice bucket. Rubble bucket. Book bucket.
All of these sprung from the IBC. The Rice Bucket gave food to poor families in India. The Rubble Bucket raised awareness about the devastation in Gaza Strip. Book Bucket aimed to erase illiteracy by giving books. In the Philippines, our MRT challenge called for politicians to take the public train, to see its deplorable condition.
These campaigns leveraged on the IBC’s popularity, to put their own agendas across. And the best part? They didn’t even like the original movement.
In fact, the proponent of the Rice bucket challenge said that a person does not need to go through the torturous experience of pouring ice-cold water on his head, just to help out.
Still, they used the IBC as the template because it was effective and results-driven. The whole thing worked because of an easy-to-follow set of rules.
Its success can also be attributed to these:
- A sense of urgency via the imposed 24-hour time limit.
- A win-win situation. Do the challenge and raise awareness. Don’t do it and raise funds. (Do both and be in the running for the next Dalai Llama)
- A chance to pay it forward. By nominating someone else, you keep the movement alive. As Time puts it: “the challenge’s visual component fostered a sort of casual one-upmanship, especially once celebrities started doing it, knowing they had large audiences.”
Wait a minute. Now that I think about it, the roots of the IBC seem pretty familiar…
Holy crap. Is the IBC just a modern version of a chain letter?
A chain where, instead of cursing someone with a visit from Bloody Mary, you pass on the opportunity to do a good deed?
I can dig that.
The postal service has really gone downhill.
1. Everyone can participate — and debate
Some things you can’t ignore, especially if it’s force-fed to you 24/7.
The IBC craze may be over. But I remember how last August, you couldn’t go anywhere without running into the phenomenon.
You see it on your FB wall, you learn about it on the news, you view it on YouTube, or on your seatmate’s iPhone screen. It’s like a B-movie monster that refuses to die and shows up at every corner, just in time for murder.
Even if you don’t want to participate, you get pulled right in by the massive viral wave. Finally, you cave and watch a 3-minute video of someone doing the challenge.
From here, several things could happen: 1.) you like the IBC and don’t mind sharing the video; 2.) you think it is stupid and express your opposition of it online; or 3.) you think the challenge could use a little tweaking, to make it more relevant to the cause it promotes. There’s also a fourth option where you don’t give a flying fuck about ALS or about donating to charity, by which I assume you are an emotionless plant/robot, or is the same guy who made the 1 share=1 prayer post to capitalize on tragedy because you seek attention.
Save for the last one, all those reactions are valid and open the doors for discussion on what the movement lacks, what needs to be fixed, what makes it work/fail, etc. You become a participant of the phenomenon, without having to douse yourself with cold water.
This back-and-forth of ideas lead to revisions, realignment of goals, spin-off campaigns (Rice Bucket and the others), or calls to stop everything once and for all.
It’s the same reason why long-running demonstrations can sometimes change or take a life of its own. It adapts and evolves, depending on the needs of the majority.
This is why I think digital activism is something we should utilize to the fullest, to implement the changes we want (especially here in the Philippines, where corruption and crime is rampant).
I’m not saying that this should totally replace traditional forms of activism. Rather, it should complement it by transforming social media into an alternative protest ground that is connected to the rest of the world. Once the international community sees your plight, the pressure would be enough to make our politicians actually get off their asses and do something to fix the problem.
Because having genuine progress? That’s our greatest challenge.