The Thing About Social Activism

Photo by Jason Howie via Flickr
Photo by Jason Howie via Flickr

It took me a week to figure out the videos that were being posted all over Facebook and Vine were for raising awareness for Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, “a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord.” I remember leaning over to a friend siting next to me to tell her what these Ice Bucket Challenges were all about after finding it out myself to which she responded, “Huh? What is ALS?”

The Ice Bucket Challenge goes like this: People are asked to make a video of themselves dumping a bucket of ice water on their heads, post it a social media site, and then challenge three friends to do the same within 24 hours or donate $100 to ALS.

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge went viral in the hopes of raising awareness through social media, and although it has come to be a great way to inform people about ALS, it didn’t exactly start off that way.

There are a lot of things wrong with the Ice Bucket Challenge, but the most annoying is that it’s basically narcissism masked as altruism,” said Arielle Pardes, a writer for Vice. The challenge first started out without people attempting to educate others about ALS or inviting them to donate, but things quickly turned around for the better and now millions are aware of the disease and are now interested in helping out any way they can.

Eventually, many took notice that no one was really noticing what the Ice Bucket Challenge was even for and they stepped up to the plate. Many are now donating and dumping ice water on their heads, which is good. Money is being donated and people are beginning to seek out information about ALS.

Social media activism, in this case, went the long way around, but eventually succeeded in what it had to do. And somewhere along the way I realized that there are a lot of people who initially don’t care about various issues unless they are involved and/or there is some fun and cool way to show off in front of your friends on social media. And I guess that is something we have to keep in mind when we try to raise awareness for important social issues, diseases and various causes.

There are many causes and movements that have benefited from the spread of information and awareness through social media. But scores of other movements and causes have either fallen to the wayside or never made it to the surface to see the light of day because it wasn’t “trendy” enough.

The thing about social activism through new media is that it is very tricky to execute correctly. Social media can be used as a brilliant tool to reach more people at a faster rate, but you have to capture the seriousness of the cause, what needs to be done, and not let the message get construed in a 140 character tweet, a 2000 character Facebook post, or a 15 second or six second video on Instagram or Vine.

In the meantime, however, attempting to use social media for altruistic reasons is a good thing. I think it’s refreshing, regardless, to see more random acts of kindness and the want to help others in need.

And make sure you donate, if you haven’t already, by clicking here to support compassionate research that doesn’t test on animals, or directly on ALS’s website by clicking here.

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