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Ig Sanita Pubbl. 2015 Jul-Aug;71(4):361-8.

[The "Ice Bucket Challenge": wondering about the impact of social networks to promote public health interventions].

[Article in Italian]

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Dipartimento di Scienze della Sanità Pubblica e Pediatriche, Università degli Studi di Torino, Italia.


The "Ice Bucket Challenge" was an activity launched to promote awareness of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and encourage donations to research for this disease. The campaign went viral on social media during July to August 2014. It consisted in nominating people and challenging them to donate 100 dollars to the ALS Association or pour a bucket of ice water over their head and post the video on the web. Participants in turn then had to challenge others to do the same. The initiative was hugely successful, involved millions of people and, just in the US, collected 35 times more money than in the same time period in 2013. We analyzed possible factors that determined the success of this initiative, to identify strengths and weaknesses of the activity and evaluate the possibility of applying the same model to promote public health interventions. Several features of the challenge were identified as strengths: the involvement of wellknown people from different contexts, the "public platform" which triggers a positive combination of competitiveness, social pressure and narcissism, the chain-letter like method of nomination, the ironic and entertaining nature of the performance. Besides these strengths, weaknesses were also identified: information spread via social media can only partially reach potential donors and supporters, due to the digital divide phenomenon which excludes people who do not have web access. Also, it is not possible to predict if the message will be long-lasting or will cease shortly after the end of the campaign. The latter could be acceptable for fund-raising, where the aim is simply to collect as much money as possible, but not for a public health intervention program, whose success requires that the intended message has a long-lasting effect to produce an effective change in people's behavior. Despite the above-mentioned limits, social networks undeniably show great potential to spread messages to the community and to involve a large number of people. Their use as a complementary tool to increase the effectiveness of public health campaigns should therefore be encouraged.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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