While activism in the forms of using social media platforms or doing viral challenges has been criticised, research shows that it actually is a force for social good.

The Ice Bucket Challenge, designed to raise money and awareness for sufferers of ALS, did not receive all the praise and admiration that one might assume. Given its good intentions, many criticised the challenge as ‘slacktivism’; that is, a lazy form of activism that has the guise of doing good but actually contributes very little to a cause and in some cases, detracts from it. In more blunt terms, “pouring ice cold water over your head . . . could not really help find a cure for ALS, a terrible neurodegenerative disease.”

A recent paper published this August in Science has outlined the discovery of a faulty protein in ALS patients’ neurons that could be blamed for the disease. Medicine applicants should read further about the protein, TDP-43, which does not work in 97% of ALS cases. One of the paper’s authors, Jonathan Ling, says that this discovery was helped in part by the collection of funds from the Ice Bucket Challenge, which helped raise $220 million in donations.

The Ice Bucket Challenge is not the only example of so-called ‘slacktivism’ doing concrete good. The ongoing eminence of police brutality and racial inequality in the USA has been brought into conversation through social media campaigns like #blacklivesmatter – not only did this bring awareness, but a digital petition on this subject lead to the removal of the racist Confederate Flag from South Carolina’s capitol.

PPE applicants should consider the differential impact of political protests from remote locations versus the physicality of traditional protests such as marches and occupations, while Economics students should investigate charity fundraising and charity spend, to assess whether the impact of viral fundraising campaigns and the monetary gains they bring in. 

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