The most current slacktivism trend that is sweeping social media is the Ice Bucket Challenge. In all the conversations about this, it took me two days before someone mentioned in their post that it was for ALS – Lou Gehrig’s Disease. On my personal pages, I’ve not come across a lot of these posts because I started removing people a long time ago who participated in what I and many others call “slacktivism” — something that makes a person feel good, but has no actual effect on the cause they are promoting.
For instance, posting a crazy ass sexually charged comment with no context in support of breast cancer “awareness” or changing your profile photo to that of a cartoon character to show support for children that live in abusive situations. It’s an effort to do these things, sure, but it’s minimal and frankly, having Scooby-Doo for your avatar does nothing in the long run for the child that is having cigarettes burned into her flesh.
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When something like this invades pop culture, there’s always a debate about whether the viral nature of the stunt outweighs any benefits to the actual cause. Currently, the ALS Foundation states that since the Ice Bucket Challenge campaign, they have raised $15.6 million, which is nearly nine times more than what they raised during June, July and August of 2013. Other ALS charities have stated that their donations have increased substantially by these ice bucket challenges, and at the end of the day, isn’t that the goal?
Why do we even care what someone posts on Facebook if, when all is said and done, someone is spurred to donate money to a good cause? Why do I remove someone when I see yet another acquaintance post “why is no one around whenever I’m horny?”
Well, because there’s a difference between actual donations or awareness and being sucked up into a social media popularity contest.
Breast Cancer awareness is the most prevalent “cause” taken up by slacktivists. The above mentioned quote comes from the most recent breast cancer chainmail that was sent around for 2014. Most of these messages stem from that one time when women posted a color (the color of their bras! Gasp! Soooo risque!) on Facebook statuses worldwide in an effort to flummox men. Oh yeah, and of course, raise awareness for breast cancer. When the trend was picked up by news outlets, it ensured that each year, women will be messaged by their Facebook “friends” in a gotcha moment: You liked the chain mail status! If you truly care about people and aren’t a horrible person who would like to watch the little tiny babies of Africa starve, then of COURSE you’ll play this simple, stupid, and obtuse game — as long as you don’t tell anyone! Remember: It’s for breast cancer awareness! Just make sure that you share that. Even more insulting, the emails usually include the title of “20XX Breast Cancer Game.”
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That’s right — breast cancer has been so successfully marketed that most people don’t see breast cancer as a fight; rather, they see raising awareness as a game. However, survivors and victims don’t. Lisa Bonchek Adams, a woman who has been fighting breast cancer for years, has written two posts that summarize my feelings of frustration at slacktivism that I am unable to eloquently articulate.
Education underlies awareness. To even call something a game and honestly believe it’s doing anything to help any aspect of this disease is delusional.
And why would awareness be correlated with something being done secretly?
I think that those of us who have had breast cancer have an obligation to speak out if we disagree with these posts. People look to us to see how we react. If we not only read these updates but share them, it does constitute endorsement. It says we agree. It says it’s okay to think of breast cancer awareness this way.
Today, Forbes called out detractors of the Ice Bucket Challenge, saying that the objections were “catty” and people raising objections “should know better.” The author ends by saying that we should just be happy with the awareness being raised, and how great it is that the ALS foundation is getting money. Many other stories have been published today with this same point. If we talk about the #icebucketchallenge in any negative manner, we’re killjoys. We’re selfish. We’re missing the point. However, I’m NOT missing the point. I agree wholeheartedly that if there is a direct correlation between the stunt and awareness, then it’s not all bad. To say that I’m wrong for agreeing with Will Oremus by joining the #noicebucketchallenge, or that my “heart is cold” is arrogance.
Furthermore, I think we all know remember what happens when we jump on memes without doing research first.
Oremus first shows that the original challenge had nothing to do with ALS, but rather a standing dare between a group of pro athletes. That’s right. A group of people who make massive amounts of money were told to dump ice on their heads or donate $100 to a charity of their choice. In viewing the videos, the charity mention seems an afterthought — almost as though the golfers simply wanted to do something stupid but have a reason for it (AVOCADO: I’m the better half!!!!)
Those participating on social media also neglect the charity. The generally conceded “rules” stipulate that a person can donate $100 to the now-specified ALS Foundation OR they can dump ice on their heads. Over the past weekend, as people have been calling this out, there’s been a movement that if you dump ice, you should go ahead and donate $10 to ALS research. The ice-dumping knocks $90 off the donations. Personally, I don’t care if these dumpers actually did donate. What they DIDN’T do is make me feel like they cared about my chronic illness. They didn’t make me feel like they cared about those with ALS. Or breast cancer. Or cystic fibrosis. Or mental illness. Most of the time, they didn’t even talk about what ALS does to a person or family.
The dollar amount doesn’t matter here. What DOES matter is that we’ve replaced the sensation of doing something charitable with the feeling of being validated. While not everyone can afford a donation large enough to have a building named after them, it doesn’t change the fact that charitable giving seems to have become trendy. For the longest time, charity and donations were handled quietly by lower socioeconomic classes. It involved simply donating at a church or to a table outside a store. Maybe you mailed a few checks each year to your favorite causes. A couple times out of the year you volunteered at the local soup kitchen because financially you couldn’t give funds but you could give time. Maybe you donated groceries. Maybe you filled out a tennis shoe with your name on it for a dollar at the gas station.
What you didn’t do, however, is post about it on Facebook for likes, or record yourself serving the homeless for favorites, or tweet #YOLO PACKING THESE COATS FOR KIDS simply for retweets.
I agree with the #noicebucketchallenge:
Do not fetch a bucket, fill it with ice, or dump it on your head.
Do not film yourself or post anything on social media.
Just donate the damn money, whether to the ALS Association or to some other charity of your choice. And if it’s an organization you really believe in, feel free to politely encourage your friends and family to do the same.
How simple is that? Sure it’s not as awesome as getting 47 likes on my status (i like it on the filing cabinet!), it’s not as titillating as wearing a counterfeit bracelet that says “I <3 Boobies” that costs $3.99, none of which goes to charity, and it’s certainly not a mindless act I’ll forget about before I move on to the next viral craze.
I guess I like my charitable giving the way I like my head. Instead of being soaked by ice water, flashy and obtrusive, I prefer it dry, restrained and non-invasive. If that makes me cold-hearted then so be it.
If you don’t know about ALS and the life that its victims lead, please look into it. The disease is ultimately fatal. If you’re moved and would like to donate, please consider the good work being done by the ALS foundation. If ALS isn’t your thing, may I recommend a donation to the National MS Society?