Back to the Beginning of Digital Activism

4 min readOct 28, 2021


I am going to take you back, and I mean way back to 2014. I know. Why talk about digital activism in 2014 when so much has been happening recently? To fully grasp the concept and how it works, I wanted to go back and analyze the first ever movement that used social media to build a community around an issue that I could remember. I realized that the first one I remember and participated in was the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

Back in 2014 I remember receiving a Facebook notification from a friend that had extended the challenge to me. It was not long until I started seeing the videos everywhere. Celebrities were in on it too. All I would see were these videos of people dumping ice cold water on themselves in their backyards, but why were these people doing it?

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was taken on early on by Pete Frates and Pat Quinn, both suffered from ALS and were advocates of the organization, in the summer of 2014.

It was created to launch a campaign to promote awareness of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and encourage donations for research. A person is filmed as a bucket of water and ice is dumped over the individual’s head. The individual then nominates a minimum of three people to do the same thing, having only a 24-hour time frame to complete the challenge and donate to the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Association.

Having this quality of nominating people, word of mouth really spread this challenge across social media. A sense of community around a “fun” activity was created. Anyone who was not participating felt left out from all the buzz. This “fun” quality is also what contributed to its spread. It is an easy and quick challenge to do and an entertaining one to watch. A community was fostered. These are the reasons I believe that this challenge became one of the most successful digital activism examples.

The challenge first received media attention after professional golfer Greg Norman nominated news anchor Matt Lauer in July 2014 on NBC’s Today.

This put the challenge on celebrity’s radars. To name a few that participated were Zac Efron, Chris Hemsworth, Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez, and Taylor Swift. Celebrities were not the only ones to participate, influential persons such as President George W. Bush and Bill Gates also participated in the challenge.

All generations came together on social media to participate in this cause.

In total more than 17 million people participated in the challenge worldwide. In the U.S., 2.5 million people participated. The Ice Bucket Challenge raised more than $115 million for the ALS Association. A chart from the ALS Association shows that $77 million, or 67%, of the funds were designated to research and another $23 million, or 20%, were given to patient and community services.

The 2014 Ice Bucket Challenge had ripple effects for the ALS Association in the following years. It turns out that dumping that ice water over your head a few summers ago did make a big difference. A recent report from independent research firm RTI International found that donations from the 2014 Ice Bucket Challenge helped the ALS Association increase its annual funding for research worldwide by 187%. “Five years after the Ice Bucket Challenge soaked the world, the pace of discovery has increased tremendously, bringing ALS researchers closer than they have ever been to real breakthroughs in diagnosing, treating, and eventually curing this disease,” said Calaneet Balas, president and CEO of The ALS Association, in a press release.


Frederick, Brian. “Ice Bucket Challenge Dramatically Accelerated the Fight against Als.”, 4 June 2019,

Galer, Susan. “SAP Brandvoice: The 5 Workplace Norms Innovative HXM Leaders Are Replacing Right Now.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 11 June 2019,

Trejos, Amanda. “Ice Bucket Challenge: 5 Things You Should Know.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 3 July 2017,




Creative non-fiction writer. UF Global Strategic Media graduate student trying to maintain a 4.0 GPA. An Italian with above average pizza making skills.