Love It or Hate It: How the Internet Reacted to the Ice Bucket Challenge

If you haven’t heard of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, please crawl out of the rock you’ve been hiding under. It has been so prevalent in global consciousness these past months that in fact, you might even be already sick of it – after all, if Justin Bieber has done it, it’s bound to be too mainstream, right?

However, it is undeniable that there is a certain level of enjoyment in seeing your favorite celebrities willingly douse themselves in ice water in the name of charity.

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, a viral meme that involves taking a video of yourself while dunking your head with a bucketful of freezing water and challenging at least two other friends to do the same within the next 24 hours, has become a cultural phenomenon. But the point of the challenge is of charitable leanings—if you don’t do the challenge, you’re supposed to donate $100 to the ALS cure research. In theory, that is a good thing, but this is the Internet and it has a lot of opinions.

Using Radian6, one of the most powerful social listening tools available today, we listened in on the sentiments surrounding this trend.


Merely a month since it broke through the Internet, the Ice Bucket Challenge has garnered over $100 million in donations to the ALS Association alone, not counting contributions to other ALS charities like the Motor Neurone Disease Association and the ALS Therapy Development Institute. Despite criticism that the challenge has become more about star power than being charitable, the act of dumping ice water on your head is now so associated with Lou Gehrig’s Disease that the ALS Association attempted to have the “Ice Bucket Challenge” patented, to much criticism.

Surprisingly, the Ice Bucket Challenge was not even borne for ALS – it was only at the dare of one Pete Frates of Boston that the challenge was dedicated towards donation to ALS research. A Lou Gehrig’s Disease sufferer himself, Frates dared his friends to do the Ice Bucket Challenge, sparking the virality of the act.

Radian6 listened in on the mentions and sentiments surrounding the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. From there, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge gained momentum, first spiking on August 19 when it reached 2.58 million posts across the internet: aside from social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, the challenge has also caught the attention of mainstream news sites, aggregators and forums. On Aug. 21, mentions of donations in relation to the Ice Bucket Challenge spiked at 463,599 posts, a good 15.1% of all mentions of the dare.


The burst of attention, largely because of celebrities from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to actor Robert Downey Jr. have taken on the challenge, created the spike on August 21 with 3.07 million mentions across the Internet. And with this attention comes both praise and criticism.

  1. The rumor that more than 70% of donations are going to administrative expenses instead of research.
  2. There’s also the criticism that the virality of the meme, which has undoubtedly changed the way the charity model for fundraising, is ‘cannibalizing’ donations that would have otherwise been given to other charities.
  3. There are also those who called for a boycott of the donation for moral reasons – one of the more vocal supporters of this boycott is actress Pamela Anderson, who decries the animal testing in the name of ALS cure research.

Interestingly, the rumor that ALSA is not appropriating the massive amount of donation to research is one of the least mentioned worries of the Ice Bucket participants and critics alike. The loudest voice when it comes to criticism about the challenge is apparently those that decry the wastage of water.

California is suffering one of its most severe droughts in history, and many of the prime movers of the Ice Bucket Challenge live in California. Awareness to this problem led several celebrities to ‘hack’ the challenge: actor Charlie Sheen dumped $10,000 in cash on his head instead, which he said he would be donating to the cause, while writer Neil Gaiman did his challenge on the beach, using seawater and ice bought from a convenience store.

Another loud negative voice is ALSA’s venture into finding a cure to the disease through Stem Cell research, which remains to be one of the most controversial medical practices. At least 19.1% of the criticism is against the use of embryonic stem cells in looking for the cure to ALS, and many groups call for donations to be made to other causes that use adult stem cell research instead.


Radian6 took a sample of 500,000 mentions from July 19 to August 29 and gauged the reactions of netizens towards the Ice Bucket Challenge. Neutral positions, mostly from news sites mentioning the phenomenon, dominated with 83.6%. Positive mentions were at 11.7%, and negative reactions placed at 4.7% of the entire sample.

Examples of sentiments surrounding the donations to ALS research. On the other hand, mentions of donations with the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge placed the positive opinions at 74,015 mentions out of all the 500,000 Internet presence sampled by the tool, with negative mentions only at 5.7% of the data. Mixed reactions garnered a 0.2% slice of the pie, with 81 mentions somewhat positive towards donating for ALS, versus 41 somewhat negative comments.

Neutral posts are common with most listening reports, but the prevalence of the 14.8% positive sentiment towards the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge donations shows that despite criticism, the meme is still considered to be a powerful game-changer. Its success has not only boosted the annual donations to ALSA over fivefold, it also spawned copycats, and even known brands are joining in in an attempt to recreate the global impression that the challenge made.

Based on the data gleaned from the Radian6 listening tool, we can assume that the Ice Bucket Challenge still holds an overall good standing in the eyes of netizens, its charitable cause not entirely lost on the people who are having fun dumping ice water on their heads.

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