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Tufts Public Health » ALS, Awareness, Fundraising, Ice Bucket Challenge » The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge: The Impact of Social Media on Health Communication

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge: The Impact of Social Media on Health Communication


Facebook timelines were drenched in ice bucket videos this summer, as millions of people around the globe doused themselves in ice water. As the amount of videos increased, ALS became synonymous with the Ice Bucket Challenge.

Also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, ALS (Amyotrphic lateral sclerosis) is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. The disease causes motor neurons to die, eventually making it impossible for the brain to initiate and control muscle movement. At the beginning, patients may experience muscle weakness and difficulties with speech, swallowing, or breathing. In the later stages of the disease, patients may become completely paralyzed.

The idea of challenging people to either douse themselves in cold water or donate to a charity has been popular in the sports arena for a while, but it evolved into the Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS during the summer of 2014. Pete Frates, a 29 year old Boston College baseball star with ALS, is often credited with bringing the challenge to its viral status. He had a large network of friends and family who took to Facebook with their challenge, starting the craze of Ice Bucket Challenge videos.

The Ice Bucket Challenge may be one of the most powerful examples of the influence of social media over our behavior. As the number of participants soared, donations to the ALS Association skyrocketed. From July 25th, 2014 to September 15th, 2014, the ALSA received over $114 million in donations, compared with approximately $5 million from the same time period in 2013. They also saw an incredible boost in their social media following and website visitations. In late July, when the challenge first started becoming a household name, the ALSA had about 9,000 Twitter followers and 35,000 Facebook likes. Today, they have seen a 146% increase on Twitter and an 849% increase on Facebook, putting them at over 22,200 Twitter followers and 337,000 Facebook likes. On their website, they have had more than 43 million visitors since early August, with 80% of those made up of new visitors. With this drastic increase in followers and visitors, the ALSA has been able to significantly increase the amount of people they can educate about this terrible disease.

Although the Ice Bucket Challenge has generally been met with enthusiasm and positive reactions, particularly from those affected by ALS, there have been some very vocal critics. These critics believe that the challenge is just a stunt to make people feel better about themselves, and that people should not be called philanthropists unless they donate. However, supporters of the Ice Bucket Challenge disagree. Meghan Tallakson, Director of National Corporate Partnerships at the ALSA, has witnessed the Challenge’s incredible impact:

“ I think that people taking the challenge and mentioning the word “ALS” that millions have become aware of this disease, which has resulted in increased awareness as well as donations to ALS organizations.”

The Ice Bucket Challenge has greatly altered the landscape of fundraising and awareness. It has shown that with social media tools like Facebook and Twitter, it is possible to reach millions of people and teach them about health-related matters that were once obscure. It has also put a new element of fun and excitement into donating and learning.

As the hype starts to subside, other organizations are taking to social media with their own versions of the Ice Bucket Challenge. In West Africa, people are starting to participate in the Lather Against Ebola Campaign. The Felines & Canines animal shelter created the Mice Bucket Challenge, encouraging people to dump buckets of mouse-shaped toys (soft and harmless) onto their cats or donate to their shelter. However, none of these spin-offs have seen the same success of the Ice Bucket Challenge. Perhaps it is too soon and these challenges seem like “copycat” campaigns, or perhaps people do not have money to donate to another charity. It is possible that putting mice toys on a cat’s head isn’t quite as exciting as showering oneself in ice water on a hot summer day. Regardless of the reasoning, the Ice Bucket Challenge has shown that just like advertising on web and in print, social media should now be an integral part of the mix when putting together campaigns.

To learn more about ALS and the mission of the ALSA, visit To learn more about the Ice Bucket Challenge, visit

Filed under: ALS, Awareness, Fundraising, Ice Bucket Challenge

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