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UPDATED: September 9, 2014 NO. 37 SEPTEMBER 11, 2014
Should Social Media Dump the Ice Bucket Challenge?


Recently, the ice bucket challenge, also known as "icy challenge," spread rapidly on the Internet, firstly among the celebrities and then ordinary people. The "ice bucket challenge"—which requires participants to pour a bucket of cold water with ice cubes over themselves, upload a video recording of it on social media, and nominate three others to do the same—has gone viral worldwide in recent weeks. Those who are nominated but choose not to complete the challenge are asked to donate $100 to an association working to fight amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease). Often, nominees are encouraged to do both tasks.

In August, this "challenge" became wildly popular in China, especially among celebrities. Almost everyone from tech executives to movie stars has taken part.

Needless to say, this activity has drawn unprecedented attention to the disease. It was reported that as of August 24, more than 8.5 million yuan ($1.38 million) had been raised for the China-Dolls Center for Rare Disorders, the largest non-profit organization in China working to fight rare conditions. In 2013, the organization collected just 2 million yuan ($325,600) over the course of the year.

Some have questioned the practice of commercializing a charitable cause. Others joke that many celebrities in China are waiting anxiously to be nominated by better-known celebrities to join in, all in the name of "charity." Excerpts of opinions on the fad follow:

A fleeting fad

Li Yanli (Beijing Youth Daily): The ice bucket challenge should be put to an end.

Having rapidly spread across the globe from the United States in recent months, numerous people from politicians to actors to children have taken part. It was designed as a game that spread via personal networks, emanating ever outward in waves. At first, people were very receptive to it; now that the fad is nearing its end, taking part has become passé. The acclaim and appreciation in the beginning have faded to a questioning of participants' ethics. Even though the challenge has raised a considerable amount of money for charity, many think this sort of social media promotion is self-centered and only temporarily influential, a typical characteristic of our new-media era.

Serious scholars may analyze the communication, sociology and marketing theories behind the challenge, but to ordinary netizens around the world, it was simply temporary amusement for a good purpose at its height. As the activity gained traction, however, people's understanding of the purpose behind the challenge became vaguer and vaguer. When participants were pouring buckets of icy water over themselves, how many understood the symptoms and prevalence of ALS? How many knew the hidden pain sufferers feel?

Recently, people taking the challenge have uploaded videos done as pranks. The media have gossiped about famous movie stars' physiques. The public has argued over whether or not a celebrity's ice cubes were real. But more and more, the challenge's ultimate goal—collecting donations for ALS research—has been forgotten. Perhaps now is the time to dump out the water, put away the video camera, and let this fad disappear with dignity.

A success story

Gao Fei (www.xinhuanet.com): People should remember that the ice bucket challenge is geared more toward charitable giving than actually dousing themselves with water. The focus should be kept on its original intent instead of simply watching the fun.

Some have questioned the activity not because they disapprove of the method or the charity itself, but because of worries that the challenge might be focused more on the entertainment side. Participants and onlookers often put a greater focus on celebrities and their acquaintances being drenched from head to toe by big buckets of icy water, and their obligation to donate to ALS research has been forgotten. So much so, in fact, that the ice bucket challenge has been made into a deliberate propaganda stunt in some commercial activities. Therefore, it is understandable that some lament the original charitable intent being turned into a shallow excuse for entertainment.

In this case, it is important to remember that even the most well-meaning ventures can have adverse side effects. Charities need to win over donations; celebrities must maintain social relevance. Thus, despite the flurry of famous names partaking for a popularity boost, it would be irrational and inadvisable to abandon this activity for a minor flaw.

Based on the core values of respecting goodwill and kindness, all debates should be focused on how to attract donations efficiently rather than questioning the creativity of a group's methods.

The ice bucket challenge has brought an unprecedented focus to ALS and other rare diseases, thanks to the participation of both celebrities and ordinary people. As a result, more donations have been collected than ever before. This is the most convincing evidence that the inventive activity has fulfilled its purpose. From now on, people would do well to find more creative methods through which to make charity campaigns more effective.

Shen Aiguo (Morning Express): The ice bucket challenge has been a resounding success worldwide. It is entertaining for participants and amusing for their friends. More importantly, it popularizes knowledge about ALS while collecting a significant amount in donations.

Clearly, the "celebrity effect" has helped the ice bucket challenge spread around the world in such a short time. To onlookers, celebrities' awkwardness and relatable humanity after being doused with icy water are extremely comical. This is the beauty of the viral campaign's design.

Using an attention-catching phenomenon to build up public awareness is one of the most effective modern marketing methods. It is a tactic that has become widespread. For example, a paint company's CEO once boldly drank down a whole cup of paint to promote his enterprise's environmentally safe products. He succeeded in publicizing his brand.

As long as the goals of the charity are eventually met, does it matter how? Even if someone is trying to make a name for himself, all that matters in the end is whether or not he fulfilled his obligation to charity.

The rapid spread of the ice bucket challenge among celebrities can also be attributed to the selection system. Basically, celebrities prefer to nominate three other celebrities to complete the task in order to maintain their public image. The nominees must respond, as peer pressure requires them to participate and thus maintain a good reputation. It would seem that the challenge has succeeded as planned.

Zhang Qiang (www.chinanews.com): While the ice bucket challenge has triggered a flurry of debate regarding its integrity and usefulness, it is vital to remember that the activity has also provided a great windfall to Chinese non-profit organizations.

Many believe that despite all the recent concerns over and increased resources for ALS research, few problems can be solved for those living with the disease. The discussions prompted by the challenge have forced society at large to think about how public policies affect those with rare diseases.

Following the success of this campaign, non-profit organizations should join forces to educate the public about rare diseases such as ALS. They can also help design better policies for providing social assistance. All of this requires the collaboration of families, society and the government. The latter will face the most challenges by virtue of overseeing public policies, and must pay close attention to the prevalence of these diseases, how much should be invested in their research, and how it can best provide medical care and social services.

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