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What do you really think of the #IceBucketChallenge?

I don’t think there is a single person with internet who doesn’t know about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. But just in case, it’s a social media trend that went viral a couple of months ago wherein participants have to film themselves lobbing a bucket of iced water over themselves and donating to charity, specifically the ALS Association (or MNDA in the UK).

Thought you’re more than likely aware of the challenge, not everyone is fully up to date with its associated controversies. Honestly, it’s a bit of a goddamn headache, but I’ve been nominated for the challenge and I didn’t feel right about just doing it without having a good old think about the issues. I’m annoying like that.

So what are the main issues surrounding the challenge?

Focusing on the charitable self

Many people are questioning people’s motivations for participating in the challenge. Do they actually care about the cause? Are they even giving to the cause? Or are they mainly thinking about making themselves look and feel good? Seeing as so many of the videos out there do not provide donation links or any further information about the disease, it’s easy to see people’s distaste.
But at the end of the day, this is just the nature of charity fundraisers. People have been “doing stuff for charity” since the dawn of time (*ahem* not literally), whether it’s running a marathon, hosting a bake sale or climbing a mountain. People are always going to say, “why can’t you just give to charity instead of making a big deal about it?“. In a perfect world I’m sure we would. Well, in a perfect world we’d have no need for charity because suffering would not exist, but that brings us back to the debate of the true concept of happiness.
The point is, people are more likely to give to charity if they have something to gain personally. And a lot of the time that gain is public recognition. And charities make use of that narcissistic human tendency, why shouldn’t they? Regardless of motivations, people are still raising awareness for the cause and, most of the time, donating.

The ‘bang for buck’ critique

Another argument that has been raging since time began is the “this is a better cause than this one”. And it’s petty. ALS affects two in every 100,000 people, and some have suggested that charitable donations could do more good if spent on things like bed nets to protect people from malaria. And, with all due respect, fuck them.
There are hundreds of thousands of charities in the world. One cause is not more worthy than another just because it affects more people. Are you really going to be that dick who goes into the hypothetical ALS ward of a hospital, sees the immense suffering, and says quite publicly “well, I can potentially ease some suffering in here, but I’ve just been to the cancer ward and there’s a lot more people suffering in there. So, you know, statistically, they’re more deserving of the help. I’ll go lessen their pain instead.
That is what that argument feels like.
Don’t be that dick. All causes are good causes. Every single person is as deserving of help as the next, no matter what they are suffering from. That being said, there’s nothing to stop you donating to another cause in the name of the challenge, if it’s something you feel strongly about. Well, there’s nothing stopping you yet, but more on that in a bit.

Wasting Water

There’s a water shortage in California right now and, you know, a water shortage in Africa all the damn time, so of course people are crying out over the misdirection of water. And that’s fair enough.
Luckily I live in the rainy UK, and we do not have a water shortage. I know that I can do the ice bucket challenge and all the water I used will evaporate, form clouds, and then come back down to us. No wasting water for me.


I made my peace with the issues floating around the inter webs. I knew I was fully supportive of the challenge, and when I was nominated I thought, well,

Unfortunately, news happened.

The other day, Macmillan was criticised for hijacking the Ice Bucket Challenge. They’re not the only ones who have done so (have you seen little Albert’s challenge, it’s adorable and how can you be mad at that?), but they’re certainly the main charity under fire.

“The charity said it started its own social media and search campaign for the ice bucket challenge as a response to its supporters, after noticing they were discussing it on social media and raising money for the charity by doing the challenge on their own accord.
However, Macmillan has come under fire for jumping on ALS Association’s bandwagon and hijacking its campaign, particularly because cancer charities have a much higher profile than those for rare conditions like motor neurone disease.”

Though Macmillan’s timing is arguably in poor taste, they defended themselves saying that throwing cold water over yourself for charity is not a new thing, nor is it exclusive to ALS. And they’re right. In May 2014 the “cold water challenge”, though lesser known, was a thing, and participants donated to a charity of their choice. It wasn’t until June 2014 that golfer Chris Kennedy did the same challenge and donated to ALSA that the link was made. The viral movement began when another athlete, Pete Frates, began posting the challenge on Twitter along with his friend, the late Corey Griffin.

If Macmillan started promoting the Ice Bucket Challenge next year, it’s doubtful that so many people would be in an uproar. The controversy comes from the timing.
But I fully understand Macmillan’s reasons; they’re taking advantage of a social media trend. Though the challenge is strongly associated with ALS, they did not have anything to do with that. It is not their challenge, it is a happy accident, and this ice bucket challenge could just have easily been a challenge where you can donate to a cause of your choice. It just so happened that the ALS Association stuck.

And then ALSA had to go and try to trademark the Ice Bucket Challenge.

It really is a dick move, to be honest. By registering the application, the ALSA now alleges that it owns rights to the phrase “Ice Bucket Challenge” in connection with charitable fundraising. What does that mean? Well, at a glance, it means that no other charities (like, say, Macmillan) can earn charitable donations through the same challenge. The ALSA claims that their actions are due to unnamed for-profit organisations creating confusion by “marketing ALS products in order to capitalise on this grassroots charitable effort“.

As legit as that may sound, we’re all remaining dubious, especially given the Macmillan news just days ago. Whether or not the charity choses to enforces them, the right to the challenge would enable the ALSA to stop other charities from using the challenge for their own fundraising.

Now I’m not a trademark attorney, but this guy is and if you don’t take my word for how rude the ALSA’s actions are, take his.

I don’t think this claim by the ALS Association is appropriate for several reasons:
– Is ALS Association the true owner of the phrase? I don’t believe that the Association created it or was the first to use it. Not sure they can claim real ownership.
– Is the phrase “ICE BUCKET CHALLENGE” associated exclusively with fundraising for the ALS Association? I don’t think so.
– The phrase may already be generic. It is widely used, by many, in ways that don’t only related to the ALS Association.
Is the phrase likely to be viewed by the public as indicating the source of the charitable fundraising services? Again, since many others have taken the challenge in the name of (and/or contributed to) other charities, I’m not sure that they will.
– If ALS Association successfully registers the phrase, it could seek to restrict use of it for other charitable causes. That would be the biggest shame in all of this.ALS Association captured a viral wave this summer. And it raised lots of money and attention for the ALS disease and the struggle to find a cure and to assist those diagnosed with it. An effort to register the ICE BUCKET CHALLENGE strikes me as a bit akin to those who sought register BOSTON STRONG after the marathon bombings in 2013. Even if it were permissible under the law to register the phrase (again that is not clear here), it is in poor taste. If others want to use the phrase to raise money for their causes, why would ALS Association want to stop them?

The ALSA may not be granted this patent (and I hope they aren’t). Even if they are, they may not enforce their “rights” at all. They may be perfectly happy to let people do the challenge for other causes without suing them. We’re not going to know anything on the matter right now, but I do have a bad feeling about it.

So I’ve decided to donate to the ALSA (or, rather, our UK equivalent: MNDA) and do my challenge. But I’m also going to donate to another charity of my choice in the name of the Ice Bucket Challenge as I don’t believe the challenge should be exclusive to the ALSA. That’s my little slice of activism, and it’s one I feel happy with. I encourage you all to have a good think about the issues surrounding the challenge and leave your comments below. If you haven’t been nominated yet, I hereby nominate you; not to do the challenge, but decide whether or not you want to do it, which charity you want to donate to, and why.


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