The latest round of slacktivism is coming to a Facebook post near you.
In case you’ve been away from social media for the last few months, the premise of the ALS ice bucket challenge is simple: If your friend challenges you to #StrikeOutALS on Facebook, you have 24 hours to either post a video of yourself throwing a bucketful of ice water over your head or donate money to the ALS Association. In practice, most have decided to do both, walking away both frigid and with a sense of noble purpose.
To the organizers’ credit, the results of the viral video campaign have exceeded almost everyone’s expectations. In the last few months alone, the ALS Association has reported a spike of over $100 million in donations, which the organization has pledged to put toward research, community services and education.
But what started as a sincere attempt to spread awareness about a degenerative disease has morphed into something else entirely. Instead, the social craze around dumping ice water on one’s head has perverted the otherwise pure intention of charity into something unrecognizable: self-aggrandizement via others’ misfortune.
I’m sure those partaking in the challenge had the best of intentions. Each of us is born with an innate sense of charity — a feeling that we have a duty to give back to our society and to help those in need. It’s the same feeling that pushes us to donate food to food banks, make sandwiches for the homeless and devote our time to community service projects. In short, humans have a natural impulse to do good, and that is unequivocally a good thing.
The problem is that too many of us are too lazy to use that impulse to do anything substantive, so we constantly look for quick-and-easy outlets for our charitable instincts.
But when you dump water on your head or put up pink balloons in public spaces to “raise awareness” for a cause, you convince yourself that you are doing your part to make the world a better place. Charity complete. Mission accomplished.
And if those actions are used to complement actual activism to change the systemic problems that block people’s access to healthcare and a higher quality of life, fine. But most of the time they are done in place of true activism and merely serve to promote the individual performing the action.
So if you want to dump a bucket of water over your head, go for it! If you want to send a check to your favorite pet charity, be my guest. But don’t wear the 57 likes you got on your Facebook video as a badge of honor for fulfilling your obligation to provide sustained, systematic support for your fellow human beings.
Some may say, so what? Even if this new fad is self-serving and wastes a bit of water, the fact remains that ALS researchers have managed to raise over $100 million off the project. Unfortunately, however, self-promotional charity campaigns like these generate the added drawback of wide mismatches in need and receipt.
ALS might soon find a cure, but Alzheimer’s gets left in the dust from lack of funds because this was never really about ALS in the first place, was it? It was about playing a game with your friends on Facebook and satiating that inner desire of yours to “do your part” for the world. The result is that instead of objective organizations like the National Institute of Health doling out dollars according to medical and economic need, only the causes with sexy campaign strategies get the funding they need and deserve.
We simply cannot allow one-off charity drives like this challenge to replace more steady solutions like increasing congressional funding for medical research, restructuring government programs to better help those in need and tearing down barriers of access to health insurance for those who cannot otherwise afford it.
From now on, let’s focus all of our charitable energy on addressing institutional problems. Let’s pour cold water on attempts to increase the cult of our own personality through charity.
Tyler Blackmon is a junior in Jonathan Edwards College. Contact him at email@example.com.