On Tuesday, New Jersey governor and presidential hopeful Chris Christie posted a video of his two daughters dumping a bucket of freezing water over his head. On the video, he asked U.S. senator Cory Booker, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon to do the same. All of them did, and their nominees included Bill Gates and the New York Jets.
According to the rules of this latest social media craze known simply as "the ice bucket challenge," not doing so would require them to donate money to a charity for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) - better known as Lou Gehrig's disease.
Many of the high-profile names who were challenged, including President Barack Obama, opted instead to donate money. . The craze has filled the coffers of the ALS Association, which has received more than 5 million dollars since the end of July from more than 150,000 new donors. In the same period last year, its donations totaled a only $32,000.
Yes, it's a success story but I find the challenge disquieting. It's eerily similar to a viral phenomenon earlier this year that didn't go so well. Neknominate, an online drinking game that supposedly originated in Australia, had people downing large quantities of alcohol on camera and daring their nominees to outdo them. The game resulted in at least five deaths.
The ice bucket challenge is credited to former Boston College baseball player and ALS-sufferer Pete Frates, who posted a video on Facebook on July 31 (although several news outlets including the Wall Street Journal say it was started much earlier by professional golfers). His disease only allowed Frates to do the challenge in spirit, but his nominations sparked a wave of ice bucket videos and a flood of donations.
While no one can argue that we are definitely moving in the right direction as far as viral nomination games go, I see a couple of problems with the ice bucket challenge and its implications.
First of all, why does it take something as crazy and outlandish as dumping freezing water on yourself to get people to support a legitimate cause? I'm not belittling ALS and those afflicted by it. I think it is wonderful that social media is actually making a significant difference. But do people suffering and working to eradicate polio or Parkinson's have to wait until someone posts a video of themselves somersaulting down a hill and dares others to do the same?
Secondly, just how far will we go with these challenges? What's next, jumping over barbed-wire fences? Dropping egg yolk down your pants? There's a fine line between furthering a worthy cause and filming an episode of MTV's "Jackass."
We are just starting to really understand and harness the potential power of social media for charitable giving, but we need to be aware of its potential pitfalls as well. God knows there's no shortage of stupid people on the internet.