The Mannequin challenge was also a positive trend. It was launched with the aim of entertaining viewers by showing one or more people stop suddenly as they were carrying out their daily lives, it turned into a tool of denunciation in November 2016, when actress Simone Shepherd published a video on her Instagram profile that respected the Mannequin challenge rules while also raising public awareness on the Black Lives Matter movement. The challenge was also used to further positive discussions on teamwork and the importance of relationships with others, since at least two people are necessary to make these videos. A famous Filipino tv program, It’s Showtime, even made headlines when it involved everyone in the studio, including the public, in their own rendition of the challenge.
The 100 Happy Days challenge (or the shorter 7 Days Gratitude Challenge) is another example of a challenge that is good for oneself and others. As can be guessed by the names, the challenge asks users to share something that made them happy that day on their profiles. This kind of challenges can have a positive effect on the participants’ mood. This list (which is by no means exhaustive) also includes challenges that involve pets: the Snoot challenge, for instance, asked dog owners to post videos or photos of the animals fitting their snoot into a circle they had made with their hands. As well as being fun, the gesture is also useful to get animals used to wearing muzzles or special post-operation collars.
Positive challenges don’t necessarily have to include fundraising efforts for noble causes or the commitment to a common ideal. The category also includes the countless challenges that invite you to test yourself with individual or group dances. There are plenty of examples, from the Renegade Dance to the Sweatshirt Dance. Sometimes, “dancing” challenges also ended up involving entire families, as in the case of the Blinding lights challenge, asking users to dance with their parents or grandparents.
As we saw in the first chapter, challenges can be distinguished from other online content because they invite users to perform an action that can be related to their daily activities, including cooking. Culinary challenges are their own specific and prolific genre: from the Hot chocolate bomb challenge – where users challenged each other to try a delicious (and caloric!) chocolate-based recipe – to the Lemon Face challenge, where users recorded themselves while eating a slice of lemon to support the fight against brain tumor in children.
There are plenty of positive (and harmless) challenges that have spread over the years. In all these cases, the participants were asked to do something (like cleaning, playing, or cooking) or not do anything (like standing still like mannequins). But in at least one case, one challenge achieved something much more ambitious than virality: it’s the case of the Ice Bucket challenge.
The Ice Bucket challenge is the most famous example of positive social challenges so far. The challenge was launched in the summer of 2014 in the United States of America for charity reasons, and it soon went viral all over the world, involving everyone from ordinary citizens to singers, actors, sportsmen, politicians and other celebrities.
How did the challenge work? It was very simple: users posted videos on their social profiles alongside the hashtag #IceBucketChallenge. In the videos, users poured a bucket of water and ice over their head, asking other people to take part in the challenge within 24 hours. The aim was to raise money for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), helping to fund scientific research. ALS is a rare disease caused by an atrophic process that affects elements of the voluntary motility system, causing progressive muscle paralysis that involves the ability to move, speak, swallow and breathe.
After publishing the video on their social profiles, each American user could choose to donate any amount to the ALS Association, a US non-profit organization founded in 1985 and engaged in research on ALS. As the challenge spread outside of the country and became viral globally, various charity entities became involved. According to a study by Johns Hopkins University, the challenge raised a total of over 220 million dollars worldwide, directly contributing to the enhancement of funds destined for research and scientific progress.
It is interesting to understand how this awareness campaign was born and what dynamics made it so successful. As reconstructed by Time, at the beginning the challenge had nothing to do with fundraising for ALS research. In July 2014, “Chris Kennedy, a golfer in Sarasota, Fla., was nominated by a friend to participate in the Ice Bucket Challenge, which at the time, had nothing to do with ALS. The campaign was not tied to any specific charity, and participants would select a charity of their choice for donations. Kennedy’s friend had selected a charity that benefits a young child with cancer in the area”. Yet, ASL was mentioned for the first time in Kennedy’s post: in the video, the man mentioned that his wife’s cousin’s husband was affected by the disease, and called for his relative, Jeanette Senerchia, to try the challenge. Senerchia accepted, publishing the ice-bucket video on her Facebook profile and tagging other people. By then, the challenge was tied to ALS fundraising, and it started spreading like wildfire until it reached Pat Quinn, a man with ASL from Yonkers, a municipality located in the State of New York. Through Quinn, the challenge reached Pete Frates, former captain of the Boston College baseball team, who had been diagnosed with ALS at the age of 27.
It is with Frates that the challenge obtained national attention. After the publication of Frates’ video on his Facebook profile on July 31, 2014, the campaign took off, going viral. The former sportsman, who lived in Boston at the time and would later die at the age of 34, in 2019, from the disease, had a large network of supporters and he was an important part of the ALS community. As explained in an article by National Public Radio (NPR), Frates involved high-profile participants in the social challenge, including New England Patriots star Tom Brady and Red Sox owner John Henry: Before long, celebrities like George W. Bush, Oprah Winfrey, Lady Gaga, Bill Gates and Steven Spielberg were making their own Ice Bucket Challenge videos throughout the summer of 2014”. “What started out as a small gesture to put a smile on Anthony’s face and bring some awareness to this terrible disease has turned into a national phenomenon and it is something we never could have dreamed of,” Chris Kennedy said in an interview.
From the United States the challenge then spread via social networks all over the world, reaching Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Germany, Philippines, Puerto Rico, India and Italy. According to data provided by Facebook in September 2014, between June 1 and September 1, over 17 million Ice bucket challenge-themed videos were shared on the social network. They were viewed more than 10 billion times by over 440 million people. In the same period, 3.7 million videos were uploaded on Instagram with the hashtags #ALSicebucketchallenge and #icebucketchallenge. Pop singer Justin Bieber’s was the most popular. The challenge also received great attention on Youtube: Ice bucket challenge-themed contents were viewed overall more than 43.5 million times, with 24,357 different videos uploaded to the platform. The Ice bucket challenge was among the most searched terms on Google globally in 2014.