Tuesday, August 12, 2014

How the Writer Criticizing the Ice Bucket Challenge Got it All Wrong

"You're nobody 'till everybody in this town thinks you're a bastard." - Elvis Costello, "This Town."

Maybe that's why people choose to troll, choose to publicly trash something that really has no downside? Perhaps Elvis had it right - maybe some people aren't happy unless everyone sees how tough, how cynical they are?

Who knows. But it could explain why technology writer Ben Kosinski chose to go on the Huffington Post the other day and very thoroughly trash the immensely popular (and immensely effective) "Ice Bucket Challenge," the international social media effort to raise awareness of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), a horrible disease more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. It's simple - people of all ages dump buckets of ice over their heads, on video, to support raising awareness of ALS. And then they challenge friends to do the same. And so on. It's raised awareness, tons of it. And money, too. Tons of it.

Anyway Mr. Kosinski really went full-guns after why all these folks dumping buckets of ice over their heads to raise aware of ALS are really not helping the cause. In fact the article is called, "#IceBucketChallenge: Why You're Really Not Helping."

So I know this is a music blog, and because of that I've posted a clip of Elvis' wonderful 1989 song at the bottom of this. But I just felt the need to respond to Kosinski's column, pretty much line for line. Because he's wrong. He's very, very wrong and the facts back it up. So here we go.

(Ben's words are in regular font. My responses are in bold).

If you've been on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram in the last week, you've probably seen it: countless videos of people dumping ice on themselves to help raise awareness of ALS.

Actually, Ben, it’s not countless. It just seems that way because so many people are doing it and the movement has become so popular. But no, there’s a number attached to how many have done it, if you want to find out. That’s up to you.

It's done a tremendous job at getting people to talk about a truly debilitating disease -- but that's mostly all it's done -- get people to talk.

Wrong! It’s also led to a 1,000% spike in donations to the ALS Association. It has increased awareness tremendously and it has led to an unprecedented spike in donations. Sorry Ben, but your entire premise is faulty. 

Let me explain.

Yeah, you’re going to need to in order to debunk something that has 1) gotten entirely new audiences thinking about this awful disease, 2) done so in a remarkably simple and creative way and 3) raised an awful lot of money in the process.

So. Please proceed.

Slacktivism is a relatively new term with only negative connotations being associated with it as of recently.

Not to get off-point, but this is a pretty tortured sentence. “Recently” is really the only time-frame for something that you admit is “relatively new.” 

The whole thinking is that instead of actually donating money, you're attributing your time and a social post in place of that donation. Basically, instead of donating $10 to Charity XYZ, slacktivism would have you create a Facebook Post about how much you care about Charity XYZ- generating immediate and heightened awareness but lacking any actual donations and long term impact.

Which is only true, of course, if you stop it at that point. Which naturally these internet phenomena never do; if done right – and all indications are the Ice Bucket Challenge has been done very, very right – they create a movement based on public fascination and participation and that leads to an uptick in donations. Which is what has happened here. Exactly.

Slacktivism is obviously a pejorative term and there are surely good examples of it out there. This is not one of them.

Previous examples of slacktivism are not hard to find- remember in 2012 when everyone, and I mean everyone, shared the Kony video? Very few people knew who Kony was, how they could donate or where they could get involved- but all of a sudden, these viewers (myself, included) could contribute!

So you’re giving an example of a “slacktivist” movement that clearly didn’t work, but you’re admitting that everyone did it and contributed, even you? Um…what?

We could share the Kony video on our Facebook and Twitter -- and while doing so, eliminating any chance we may have had at donating our time or money towards an actual prevention or cause directly related to the capture of Kony. You see, we valued our social posts at an incrementally higher cost than a donation- and by placing a sub-concioucs value on our Facebook post or Tweet, we told ourselves that we had done our part in trying to find Kony and then were able to pleasantly shift our thinking back to what we were going to eat for lunch.

Snarky dismissal of social media aside – and seriously, an author writing online for a blog should know better – this requires both a tremendous leap in logic and jump to conclusions that are really not possible to reach all at once. Maybe some took the easiest path out and casually posted a video before “thinking back to what we were doing to eat for lunch.” Maybe some did.

But clearly not everyone did that. "Kony 2012" raised the profile of what was happening in a huge way. The U.S. Senate voted on a resolution as a result. President Obama commented on it. The African Union sent troops as a result of the movement to find Kony. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International praised the movement. Maybe it’s not enough – and it isn’t, tragically – but is sure as hell isn’t nothing.

We had helped. We had participated. We patted ourselves on the back. We had tweeted. 

For crying out loud, stop it! Stop minimizing the impact Twitter can have on the world. Twitter gets news out exponentially faster than traditional media, or even hip new online media. Twitter was at the center of movements that led to Arab Spring and the Egyptian Revolution. To write about it in mocking tones is at best disingenuous, and at worst willfully ignoring facts.

We could now go back to tweeting about our lives.

OK, maybe there is a different point here that you could have made more effectively, the point that once the “fad” of a movement has died down the importance of the issue does not go away. There’s validity in that. 

But please remember this article is entitled “#IceBucketChallenge: Why You’re Not Really Helping.” Which really has no solid ground to stand on, unless you choose to ignore or minimize tons of awareness and massive increases in ALS giving. Which of course you do. 

When the #IceBucketChallenge started, the person who was challenged to participate had 24 hours or else they had to donate $100. However, due to the viral nature of the videos, this major component has mostly evaded the majority of the videos. Instead, people buy the bags, set up a camera, grab a bucket and think of which friends they're going to tag.

Right. And what happened next? People shared and shared and shared. And donations went up and up and up. 

You probably didn't get the right angle the first go around and maybe the second time you fumbled your words- oops, more ice. By the end of it, you might have bought 6 bags and spent 30 minutes on creating this video.

Nothing like highly speculative (read: pretty much made-up) anecdotal evidence to bolster your claims that “you’re not really helping.”

Boom, posted- and all of a sudden you're a philanthropist, spreading your charitable touch across your Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Find me the one person who took credit on Facebook or Twitter for being any kind of philanthropist for taking the ice bucket challenge. It was something fun to do that got people thinking about an awful disease that far too few people think about. And it led to a 1,000% increase in donations. How in the world is this a bad thing?

Due to all of this, you've internally placed a monetary value on the cost of goods, the time spent and for posting on your social channels. This monetary value has little long term effect and next time you're thinking of donating to a charity or for a cause, you might think back to that time you created a video.

Another extreme leap in logic. No, the monetary value of all this came in the very measurable form of huge increases in monetary donations to fight ALS. And the trending popularity of all of these ice bucket challenge videos has a cyclical effect on giving – the more people see and hear about this, the more they are giving. Period.

You've done your part, remember?

It’s clear, Ben, that you saw something popular and fun and set out to trash it. Good for you. Nihilism is awesome, I know. But to call it ineffective is just plain wrong.

And although the ALS Assocation has seen as much as four times as many donations during this time period than last year,

It’s now up to 1,000%, but at least now you’ve acknowledged the impact. And of course couched it in a negative. So let’s see what comes next.

just imagine with me for one second: What if the thousands of people who spent money on buying one or two 2 bags of ice actually gave that money to ALS? It would be out of control.

It’s up 1,000%. One. Thousand. Percent. The ALS Association's national president said this yesterday, “It's just been wonderful visibility for the ALS community. It is absolutely awesome. It's crazy, but it's awesome, and it's working."

That “out of control” enough for you?

But that's not how we think.

Seriously. Speak for yourself. 

Although I see a tangent to something bigger coming on in 3...2...1...

Our online profiles have become a direct reflection of who we are online; our life experiences are no longer an experience if isn't shared. We aren't having a great time unless we stop, take a picture of it and share it with everyone. We have an internal value associated with each Facebook post, Tweet and Instagram.

And there it is! What, exactly, does any of this tired criticism of the world of social media have to do with raising awareness and money for a terrible disease? 

If you use that social action to help further a cause, that social action is taking the place of an actual donation. Instead of donating, we are posting.

100% false. All evidence shows people are doing both.

By creating such awareness, this awareness has a cap; a ceiling of sorts, that if reached can then become cannibalistic in nature. The viral nature of this almost hurts ALS due to the substitution of potential donations with a social post; internally, people think they have donated when in turn they've only posted.

This is the most harmful paragraph you’ve written in this whole piece, trying to say this effort has "almost hurt" ALS awareness because of some false premise and numerous overreaching assumptions. If donations weren’t up, maybe you’d have a point, although even awareness itself is better than the alternative. But the facts this time, mercifully, have taken all of the wind out of your argument.

We're social creatures. We're using the #IceBucketChallenge to show off our summer bodies. We're using it to tag old friends. We're using it to show people we care. We're using it to feel a part of something bigger than ourselves. We're using it to promote ourselves, in one way or another.

You are all over the road here, man. Really.

By this same logic every person who runs a marathon for a cause, or bowls for a cause, or lights a candle and walks a mile for a cause is doing it to promote his or herself, for purely selfish reasons. Maybe there is a personal benefit by walking or running or dumping ice over your head in a silly online video. But if it raises money, raises awareness of something that desperately needs it, it’s a very, very good thing. And that is what you’ve clearly missed with the ice bucket challenge.

The #IceBucketChallenge has done a tremendous job at generating awareness for a terrible disease.

Reminder, once more, that is article is called, "#IceBucketChallenge: Why You're Not Really Helping."

But next time somebody challenges you to participate, try to show your friends how crazy you really are and just donate to the cause.

"It's just been wonderful visibility for the ALS community. It is absolutely awesome. It's crazy, but it's awesome, and it's working." – Barbara Newhouse, National President of ALS Association

If it’s all the same, Ben, I’ll listen to her instead. But hopefully you feel better now having told us all how ineffective this all has been.

Sing him off, Elvis!

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