My Ice Bucket Challenge Post- It’s Not What You Think


Photo Credit: Didriks on Flickr

This week, I posted a simple question on Facebook:

I didn’t say what this was referring to; I could have been talking about people using a celebrity’s death to promote a pet cause, or some other event that created my passive-aggressive query.
My friends, however, are shrewd, and immediately assumed I was talking about the Ice Bucket Challenge. The problem I had was as I was starting to see this thing pass around, it was clear the people I saw doing the challenge clearly had no idea what it was for and in the process were mangling, losing or ignoring the message.
The message? Former Boston College athlete Pete Frates started the Ice Bucket Challenge to raise awareness of and money to fight ALS (aka “Lou Gehrig’s Disease”), an insidious illness that is generally terminal within a few years and has no known cure. That’s really great. I wish my initial exposure to the challenge had been from people who actually knew what it was supposed to be for and were promoting the cause rather than doing some fun, silly thing their friends told them to do. Something more like this (ok, this example is probably better than we need to expect, but it’s really well done):

So, is this a post ranting about how I think an Internet meme is silly and done wrong? No. It’s more about discourse on the Internet, and how it can go right.

My question could have been seen as an attack and I could have been attacked back, in one of the Internet versions of shouting matches and name-calling that we see every day. But it wasn’t, somehow. I said my friends are shrewd, but more importantly they are thoughtful. Perhaps my phrasing this as a question rather than an “I Hate the Ice Bucket Challenge it Totally Sucks!” post opened up the conversation to reasoned and passionate discourse about the meme, rather than people calling me a hater (I’m not a hater, I’m just grumpy and sometimes hard to please). I truly wanted to ask people to think about why they are posting things, rather than condemning the effort.

Perhaps I just have better friends than you do (please flame me in the comments for suggesting that).

Either way – or both – this turned into a great example of the possibility of civil discourse online. Those of you who have quit various platforms because of “haters” or other more real and serious crimes of harassment, I’m sorry for that- and you often have good reasons. But it’s not always bad- even when some wise-cracking communications professional looks sideways at a good cause.

Did I raise awareness or annoyance? I raised a question, asking people to think, and people took it in the right spirit and made me think right back. I refuse to be amazed by that, but I think it’s great.

Now you can tell me to go soak my head; I won’t, but if you are interested in donating to the ALS Association, click this link.


  1. Doug Weiskopf

    Great post! It’s amazing what happens when people combine Thinking, Listening and Civility.

  2. All my son’s friends are doing this challenge (he’s 16). I asked him if, as a result of seeing all these people dumping ice water on their heads, he knew what ALS stood for…since none of the teens are interested in donating, only the ice bucket part. He said no. The good news is that now he does, because I made him look it up and threatened to make him write a report about the diseases and where research is regarding potential cures if he wants to make his own video. (of course, he’s 16 so will probably just ignore that directive the same way he ignores the other things I say, but I tried.)

  3. Doug Haslam

    You’re a good mom, Maggie. When my son did his last weekend, I didn’t know it was an ALS thing, just another silly thing like the “Polar Plunge” they were doing in the spring. While he and his friends mentioned “als challenge” in most of their post, not one that I saw talked about donating to the cause. I even asked him if any of his friends had put a donation link in their posts, and he said “no.” That was the start of my rant, rather than being against this whole pretty interesting phenomenon. It can always be better, and there are things, big and small, we can do to ensure messages get carried forward.

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