The Wonderful Outcome of the Ice Bucket Challenge

The FDA approves AMX0035, the first ALS drug in five years, thanks to funding from the viral challenge

Jamie Cohen

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A woman is seen yelling while a bucket of ice water is being poured over her head. She’s in the middle of the room surrounded by dozens of people in the background, out of focus, seemingly cheering her on.
“Veronica’s Ice Bucket Challenge” by madmarv00 is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

The water had to be ice cold and you had to be recorded doing the stunt, but after you got doused, you got to dare someone else to do it too. However, there was a way to opt out — you could avoid the hypothermia practice by donating money to ALS research, a disease with no known cure. 2014's Ice Bucket Challenge was perfect internet content: it encouraged participation, utilized social networking, and raised awareness and money for a debilitating disease.

Over 17 million people publicly participated in the challenge, either by getting dunked or donating to the cause. Everyday users to celebrities, athletes, reality stars, and politicians played along. The internet challenge raised $115 million and $2.2 million went to developing medication for the disease that attacks the nerve centers of the body.

On September 29, almost a decade after the challenge, the Food and Drug Administration approved AMX0035, named Relyvrio, for treatment on ALS patients. The ALS Association thanked the “grassroots social media movement” for partially funding their research.

In the world of viral videos, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge stands out. The challenge’s activism and awareness are evidence that the co-opting of an internet meme for good is possible. Today, we often see dangerous behavior that comes from TikTok challenges or reactionary media that veers into real life scenarios, but early in the 2010s, the format was just beginning to take hold.

It was probably GloZell Green who helped bring the format of the internet challenge into the mainstream. GloZell’s YouTube fans dared her to do the cinnamon challenge, a fairly hazardous stunt where you put a spoonful of the spice in your mouth and try to hold it. Spoiler: you can’t — don’t try. GloZell’s over the top personality amplified the format into the mainstream and attracted…

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Jamie Cohen

Digital culture expert and meme scholar. Cultural and Media Studies PhD. Internet studies educator: social good, civic engagement and digital literacies