This summer, our Facebook news feeds were overtaken by videos of our friends, coworkers, family members, celebrities, and even our own CC President Jill Tiefenthaler dumping buckets of ice water over their heads to generate both awareness and funding for Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS).
Many people have mocked this “ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.” Some feel that the basis of the challenge allows people to avoid donating in order to boost ALS awareness. Others feel that people who both participate and donate are doing so for attention from their acquaintances, rather than out of a genuine desire to help the cause. ALS is a neurodegenerative disease that eventually leads to death, so most who participate in the challenge support the cause, which not only cripples ALS patients, but also brings their families pain.
Despite differing opinions about the challenge, donations between July 29 and Aug. 25 reached $79.7 million, according to the ALS Association. During the same period last year, $2.5 million was raised. This draws attention to the power of social media to raise legitimate awareness and money.
Some feel the cause itself, providing care to people with ALS and their families, is not worthy of the attention it has received. It’s undeniable that $79.7 million is more attention than most causes have received in the past couple of months. It’s also undeniable that other issues deserve attention and funding. Regardless, the Ice Bucket Challenge has been a successful social media venture.
Another example of social media generating awareness is “Humans of New York,” a Facebook page with over 9.3 million followers. Pictures of New Yorkers from various backgrounds, ethnicities, and socioeconomic statuses appear on the page, accompanied by quoted pieces of their life stories and lessons. These pictures foster empathy and understanding from followers of the page, as proven by supportive, understanding comments.
This summer, the owner of the page partnered with United Nations and the Secretary General’s Millennium Development Goals Advocacy Group (MDG) to venture on a 50-day trip circumnavigating the globe. Throughout the trip, photographs and stories of people around the world appear on the “Humans of New York” page.
The purpose is to raise awareness for the MDG goals of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger; achieving universal primary education; promoting gender equality and empowering women; reducing child mortality; improving maternal health; combating HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other diseases; ensuring environmental sustainability; and increasing global partnering for development.
The majority of pictures posted on the page receive hundreds of thousands of likes, indicating awareness from many people who, if not for the page, may not have been exposed to the cultures and issues showcased.
We live in a time in which social media and globalization are inherently connected and can be used together to promote causes, worthy or not. In this context, social media is a valuable resource.
The Ice Bucket Challenge and the “Humans of New York” Facebook page have a couple of notable things in common:
First, they both document people. “Humans of New York” tells intimate stories of strangers, often with only a few words. The Ice Bucket Challenge documents both close friends and celebrities putting themselves in the uncomfortable situation of becoming freezing and wet. Both of these pages provide links between people of different backgrounds, making us feel more connected with each other.
Second, they both allow people to feel good about themselves and have it well documented. Despite the fact that participation in the Ice Bucket Challenge allows the participant to avoid donating $100, many people choose to both participate and donate, often noting the decision in their videos or statuses. “Humans of New York” illuminates common threads between us all, and by “liking” or “sharing” posted pictures, people can share their interests in humanity, fostering a global community, and appear non-judgmental to Facebook friends.
No matter the degree of selfishness or selflessness involved in people’s sharing of “Humans of New York” photos and participating in the Ice Bucket Challenge, both causes reach their goals of increasing awareness and funding. The selfishness of people drawing attention to himself or herself without necessarily having a vested interest in ALS or globalization is irrelevant.
By capitalizing on the tactics used by “Humans of New York” and the Ice Bucket Challenge, anyone has the power to make a significant difference for a cause they care about. Human storytelling and allowing people to show off their charitable sides, whether or not they’re charitable people, can promote awareness and funding for issues ranging from environmental to human rights violations.
The duty falls on the informed to prioritize causes and take the initiative to create social media campaigns to draw awareness.
I can think of no better community to collaborate in brainstorming causes, creative challenges, and other ways to foster world peace through social media than the community we find ourselves in: Colorado College.