Watch CBS News

Is The Ice Bucket Challenge More About Vanity Than Charity?

By John Dodge

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The images fill Facebook and Twitter feeds everywhere.

It started last month and has surged into a viral digital phenomenon.

Everybody, from the famous, to semi-famous, to wanna-be famous are capturing the moment they pour a bucket of ice water over their heads, all in the name of promoting awareness for ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

It works like this: Take a bucket of ice water, dump it over your head, record it and post the video on social media challenging another group of people to do the same, within 24 hours. Either do it and donate $10 to ALS research. If you don't take the challenge, donate $100.

As with any viral trend, the backlash follows.

The criticism seems logical: All of these people are doing this to call attention to themselves. However, are they really backing up their stunt with actual dollars?

The fact is that dumping ice water on your head doesn't make you a philanthropist.

Bill Gates has done it. (He has $10)
John Elway has done it. (He does, too)
Just about every local television personality, it seems, as done it, too.

And it raises a legitimate question, is this more about attention-seeking than actual charity?

In many of the videos, participants don't even mention ALS or the drive to raise the dollars.

"I can't help but feel this challenge could have done so much more good if it were structured differently," Jacob Davidson, whose father died from ALS, wrote in Time.

Fortunately, the answer, at least on the surface, is no.

As of Friday, the ALS Association said it has received $9.5 million in donations compared to $1.6 million during the same time period last year (July 29 to August 15).

These donations have come from existing donors and 184,812 new donors, according to an ALS Association news release.

"We have never seen anything like this in the history of the disease," said Barbara Newhouse, President and CEO of The ALS Association. "We couldn't be more thrilled with the level of compassion, generosity and sense of humor that people are exhibiting as they take part in this impactful viral initiative."

The association says that only about 50 percent of the general public is knowledgeable about amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

So, it would be important here to share some facts about the disease:

  • It is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord.
  • Eventually, people with ALS lose the ability to initiate and control muscle movement, which often leads to total paralysis and death within two to five years of diagnosis.
  • There is no cure and only one drug approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that modestly extends survival. Veterans are twice as likely be diagnosed with the disease.


Facebook data experts say about 15 million people have discussed the Ice Bucket Challenge on the site, either by posting videos or liking status updates related to the challenge.

The social media site also says it believes Boston was the epicenter for the viral movement and trace the genesis to Pete Frates, a former Boston College baseball player who has the disease. Frates posted this video of him jamming to "Ice, Ice Baby."

The Wall Street Journal reports, that the Ice Bucket Challenge actually began on the professional golf tour as a way to support golfers' charity causes.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.