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Baumgarten: Chill on the ice bucket challenge

There’s another challenge making its rounds on social media, but its chilling effect is beginning to become more about the person doing it rather than helping people.

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I’m talking about the ice bucket challenge. If you haven’t heard about it, you should look it up. It’s pretty simple: set up your camera for filming, grab a bucket, fill it with ice and water, dump it on your head and nominate someone to do it.

The movement started with a former Boston College baseball player who was diagnosed amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a.k.a. ALS and Lou Gehrig’s disease. The disease affects the brain and spinal cord, killing motor neurons and causing loss of muscle control. If it progresses far enough, individuals will become paralyzed or die.

This is pretty scary stuff, and most people have never even heard of the name. So the Boston Police started the challenge and it took off. Now, people are trying to raise awareness by dumping buckets of water on their heads and challenging their friends to it. If the challenged doesn’t accept within a certain period of time, he or she has to donate $100 to the cause.

That sounds great, right? Spreading awareness for a disease that needs funding. The movement has helped raise more than $4 million, four times the amount of last year. More than 70,000 new donors have joined the ALS Association. You can’t take credit away from that.

At the same time, challenges like these are not about raising money or awareness. Rather, they are about participating in a fad that is ridiculous. For the most part, people are dumping buckets of water on their heads just for the spectacle of it. It’s more about self-gratification, and not about helping find a cure.

The ice bucket challenge is nothing new. There was the “no makeup selfie challenge,” where women simply wore no makeup and posted a picture of themselves to raise awareness for cancer. There was also the “Polar Plunge Challenge,” where people filmed themselves jumping in freezing water. Then, there is the beer chug challenge, where if you don’t chug a beer after being challenge, you owe your challenger a case of beer.

People often miss the point of these challenges — well, the beer challenge is just a stupid way of getting a buzz or a free case of beer. People that do these challenges focus on getting noticed on social media rather than doing something to help a person. In the time that it took me to take a photo of myself without makeup and post it online, I could have made a donation to the cancer society. Instead of jumping into a freezing river, I could have made cookies, sold them, gave the funds to Relay for Life and stayed warm and dry.

Not to mention these challenges are not safe. A 32-year-old man reportedly drowned in New Hampshire after doing the polar plunge. Even divers couldn’t go in after him because it was too dangerous.

I saw Ethel Kennedy, 86, the wife of the late Sen. Robert Kennedy, do the challenge. I cringed as she poured the chilling bucket of water over her head, wondering if we would see her in the newspaper with a headline “Ethel Kennedy dies of pneumonia after ice bucket challenge.”

I’m sure I sound cynical and uncaring, and I promise that I want just as much as anyone for ALS to be exterminated from the Earth. This is not the way to do it.

Challenges do not cure diseases. Hard work, dedication and people raising money do. Most people that do this challenge will simply pass it along without understanding what it means. Some may even get sick or get hurt.

Instead of dumping a cold bucket of water on your head to raise awareness, why not get the billfold out and donate money? Or better yet, challenge someone to film themselves not doing the bucket challenge and instead give money to the cause.

Pass that on.

Baumgarten is the assistant editor of The Dickinson Press. Email her at Like her on Facebook at Follow her at

April Baumgarten
April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, as the news editor. She works with a team of talented journalists and editors, who strive to give the Grand Forks area the quality news readers deserve to know. Baumgarten grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family continues to raise registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college,  she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as the Dickinson city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.