In an endless sea of funny GIFs and adorable cat videos, it can be easy to brush off social media as little more than a millennial pastime. In 2014, however, a viral online challenge took over the likes of Facebook and Twitter, causing a powerful impact in the ALS community. This challenge was known as the Ice Bucket Challenge and it helped raise awareness about Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis whilst also encouraging donations towards on going research into the disease.
According to CNN, over 17 million people participated in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. This challenged dared nominees to dump a bucket of ice water over their heads and film it. If that sounds too daring, there was fortunately a dryer alternative. This social media phenomenon also encouraged nominees to donate to ALS research. Using the power of social media as a platform for change, the Ice Bucket Challenge raised an impressive $115 million.
Following a short hiatus, a new challenge is now emerging to renew ALS awareness. This latest challenge is known as the ALS Pepper Challenge—and it’s certainly turning up the heat thanks to certain Miami Heat team members and other celebrities.
The ALS Pepper Challenge was inspired by Patty Haberstroh, a social worker from Westport, CT who was diagnosed with ALS last October. On Christmas Day, Patty and her son Tom, who is a former ESPN announcer, posted a video online eating spicy peppers and challenging their friends to do the same or donate to ALS research.
— Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) January 12, 2018
In a matter of weeks, the challenge gained traction and was picked up by some big name stars, including Shaquille O’Neal, Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, Charles Barkley, and others. So far, the challenge has raised nearly $50,000 to fund ALS research and is expected to become a social media trend similar to the Ice Bucket Challenge.
At the time when the Ice Bucket Challenge first gained popularity, many feared that it wouldn’t actually raise awareness for ALS. This is because some viewers seemed more interested in sensationalising the challenge itself, and not the cause behind it. However, these fears were soon put at ease as the challenge raised over $115 million for the ALS Association.
The funding raised from the Ice Bucket Challenge was essential for a recent scientific breakthrough that was able to pinpoint a gene linked to the disease: NEK1. As many already know, ALS is a fatal disease that is currently without cure. However, with increased funding for ALS research, discoveries like the identification of NEK1 can bring doctors closer to understanding the disease and how to cure and prevent it.
While the ALS Pepper Challenge is still in its early stages, the funds it has already raised, as well as the funds it is expected to raise in the future, continue to support key research related to the disease; making the challenge another viral success.
One of the primary reasons behind the success of the Ice Bucket Challenge and the ALS Pepper Challenge can be attributed to the power of social media.
As each of these challenges went viral, they were able to reach everyone from social media influencers, to public figures, big-named stars, and general users. In fact, just between July 1 and August 13th of 2017, the Ice Bucket Challenge was mentioned more than 2.2 million times on Twitter.
While the Ice Bucket Challenge and the Pepper Challenge are fun to watch, they both carry an important message, and have sensitised the public to the disease. Unlike other communication platforms, social media lends itself raising awareness about important topics with each click of the share button or like button. Despite criticism by many, social media appears to be one of the most valuable advocates for ALS research, and has proven to be a powerful tool for change.
For those affected by ALS, both the Ice Bucket Challenge and the ALS Pepper Challenge have a created a huge impact, by raising awareness for this rare and underreported disease. While many challenge participants admit that they had previously never heard of ALS, these challenges work to educate the public while raising important funds for research.
Having already gained impressive traction with support from big-name stars, the ALS Pepper Challenge continues to encourage habanero-munching in the name of awareness and ALS fundraising.