The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Is Spreadable Media

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, otherwise known as ALS, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord that cause people to lose the ability to speak, eat, move and breathe. The disease was brought to attention when the baseball player Lou Gehrig’s career was ended because of the disease. While there are many charities, fundraisers and events held in order to raise both money and awareness to important causes, the ALS association created the Ice Bucket Challenge that generated spreadable media.

The Ice Bucket Challenge was a cultural artifact that has spread like wildfire online. In fact, in September 2014, Facebook stated that over 17 million videos related to the Ice Bucket Challenge was uploaded to the social network, which were viewed over 10 billion times by more than 440 million people. According to Henry Jenkin’s concepts in Spreadable Media, the social phenomenon was such a success due to the spreadable properties the videos exhibited.

One property that the challenge entailed was that it embraced the flow of ideas. The “spreadablility” was due to the social connections among individuals, which were made extremely visible and had the potential to be amplified by social media platforms. According to Time Magazine, the Ice Bucket Challenge was easily spreadable primarily through Facebook and YouTube, but also took off on Instagram and Twitter. It was also dispersed material as opposed to centralized material, meaning that the content was made easy to spread through embedded codes that enabled the videos to be accessed in a variety of places.

Another property coined by Jenkins was that it allowed for diversified experiences and open-ended participation. The only requirement the ALS Association implemented was for Internet users to upload a video of them dumping ice water over their heads when challenged. The open-ended manner of the videos allowed for people to generate diverse and creative videos that differed from one another. People dumped ice water on their heads at weddings, on the Ellen show and even with the help of helicopters. Everyone’s videos were so different from one another, which is what made the content so interesting to view and share.

The Ice Bucket Challenge also encouraged collaboration across roles. Internet users across the world challenged others both nationally and globally ranging from your neighbor, Charlie Sheen and Barack Obama. Collaboration across the producer, marketer and audience was blurred which made the videos enjoyable and fun to watch. The ALS Association did not force content on social media, but instead encouraged people to participate in the cause.

One property that Jenkins does not identify is that spreadable content triggers emotion. People want to spread cultural artifacts not just because of their importance, but because it evokes strong emotions that they want others to feel as well. While the videos were funny and entertaining, they all were for the same cause: to generate awareness of such a devastating disease and hopefully generate donations that could go towards research to find a cure. According to author Rick Smith, the Ice Bucket Challenge was also so successful because it encompassed a big idea that was based on smaller selfless and simple ideas. The videos held a greater meaning and challenged people to emulate what it felt like to have the disease in a light-hearted manner.

Overall, I feel that the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is a good example of Jenkin’s ideas. Its success was correlated to the concepts of “spreadability” that focused on social logistics and cultural practices. These concepts enabled the videos to become popularized with the help of technical and cultural logistics.



Bonifield, J. (2015). One Year Later, Your ALS Ice Bucket Money Goes To… CNN. Retrieved from

Chowdhry, A. (2015). Remember The Ice Bucket Challenge? Donations From The $220 Million Campaign Enhanced ALS Research. Forbes. Retrieved from

Smith, R. (2014). The Science Behind The Success Of The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Forbes. Retrieved from

What is ALS? The ALS Association. Retrieved from

Wolff-Mann, E. (2015). Remember the Ice Bucket Challenge? Here’s What Happened to the Money. Time Magazine. Retrieved from


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