What do Mark Zuckerberg, Ethel Kennedy, Matt Lauer, Justin Timberlake, and Martha Stewart all have in common?
Not much, aside from the fact that they’ve all participated in the recent viral phenomenon that is sweeping the nation (and the world): the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.
The challenge began in Massachusetts with former Boston College baseball player Pete Frates, who was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) — also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease — in 2012. According to the ALS Association, ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease affecting nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. This damage causes muscle weakness, eventual loss of limb usage, along with difficulties speaking, breathing, and swallowing.
Currently, there is only one drug approved by U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat this disease, and this drug only extends victims’ lifespans by a modest two to three months. “Consequently,” writes the ALS Association, “ALS is 100 percent fatal.”
Frates, hoping to raise awareness and donations towards finding a cure for the disease, began the ice bucket challenge at the tail end of July. The challenge asks each contender to pour a bucket of ice water over his or her head if nominated. If they should choose not to accept their mission within 24 hours, the challengee can make a donation to fight ALS instead. The challenge swiftly rose in prominence, circulating the Internet under the hashtag #ALSIceBucketChallenge.
The challenge, while noble in theory, has raised some concerns. According to Time reporter Jacob Davidson, whose father passed away from ALS eighteen years ago, “Most of its participants, including Kennedy and Today’s Matt Lauer, didn’t mention the disease at all,” he wrote. “The chance to jump on the latest trend was an end in itself. In fact, the challenge’s structure seems almost inherently offensive to those touched by ALS.”