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The Ice Bucket Challenge demonstrated the power of social media to make a positive impact at a global level, but there were sadly incidents where people took the challenge too far, writes Bernie Commins
The power of social media – for good or bad – cannot be underestimated. It is forceful enough to globally mobilise the masses to step up, speak out and do something – whatever the cause. Unfortunately, the nature of its global network and its link to a mass audience can sometimes spur people to take things a step too far. Recently, the ‘good’ side of social media saw the phenomenon known as the Ice Bucket Challenge raise an astonishing amount of money for an extremely beneficial cause – to aid amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, research. The phenomenal good that was achieved was sadly tainted by a number of deaths, and injuries, also associated with it. That is the power of social media.
ALS is a neurodegenerative disorder characterised by muscle spasticity and rapidly progressive weakness due to muscle wasting. It results in difficulty speaking, swallowing and breathing. The term ‘motor neurone disease’ (MND) is sometimes used interchangeably with ALS.
As the ice bucket was passed to Ireland from the US, where the idea emerged, more than 500,000 eager participants put their wet hands in their soaking pockets and collectively raised more than E1.4 million for the Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association (IMNDA), as well as Motor Neurone Disease Research (MNDR). The challenge involved people recording themselves having a bucket of ice water poured over them, as they pledge a donation to the MND charity, and nominating three others to do the same within 24 hours. If the nominees failed to do so, then they would have to donate a larger amount.
According to the IMNDA, the money raised will be used in a variety of ways, which will be outlined following a detailed consultation with IMNDA clients, their families, carers and supporters of the IMNDA. However, 25 per cent of the final figure will be given to Trinity College Dublin’s internationally recognised MND research group, led by Prof Orla Hardiman, for clinical research into causes and treatments for MND.
MND affects about 300 Irish people, with approximately 110 new cases reported each year. This devastating disease causes inexorable decline of the motor neurons, and death within three years of first symptoms, in most people. Prof Hardiman and her research group at the Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute (TBSI) have made several significant discoveries in the area, including the identification of a gene for MND.
Research funded by the Health Research Board has also found that particular variations in genes make certain populations more susceptible to the disease than others. This is an exciting time for MND research, and the Ice Bucket Challenge has created a lot more opportunities in that area.
But the Ice Bucket Challenge was not without its critics: some deemed it too narcissistic; others criticised it for missing the point; and more blasted it because of the danger people were exposing themselves to. However, the social media craze has seen millions of people across the US, Europe, Australia and all around the world, drench themselves with buckets of ice water – for the most part.
Others, eager to impress, shock or simply out-do those before them, used farm or construction machinery, wheelie bins, and other over-sized containers to deliver and achieve maximum drench-age. Some, fuelled by excitement, adrenaline and the shock of an ice-cold shower, also injured themselves – some seriously and, sadly, some fatally. It spurred the IMNDA to issue a warning to people to be careful when dousing themselves with freezing cold water.
The charity published a statement on its Facebook page pleading with anyone planning to take part in the challenge to do so safely. In the statement, the charity said it appreciated that many people wanted to go one step further than just a bucket, but added that it wouldn’t take much for someone to get hurt when using machinery/farming equipment, or even throwing a large quantity of water from a big height.
“A simple bucket and some ice will do just fine folks, we really don’t want and injuries from such a fun and successful campaign,” it said.
IMNDA released this statement after an Irish Montessori teacher doing the challenge was recorded running into a metal clothes line and falling unconscious after her mother tipped the ice water bucket over her.
What about farm safety?
Irish people were not exempt from using heavy farm machinery to complete the ice bucket challenge. South Tipperary TD Mattie McGrath had a JCB tip a large quantity of water over him. He wasn’t the only one. Facebook was awash with people having huge amounts of water pelted on them from a height, from large troughs, tractor buckets and even slurry tankers.
With farm safety a major theme of this year’s National Ploughing Championships, it is worth pointing out, once again, that using heavy machinery in this fashion could cause serious injury, or worse. A number of fatalities have been associated with the challenge – thankfully none were Irish or directly farm-related, but they do hammer home the importance of safety on the farm, on a construction site, in the vicinity of overhead power lines, or water.
In Spain, a Belgian man was seriously injured after a pilot friend dropped 1,500 litres of water on him from a fire-fighting plane. The 51-year-old man was rushed to hospital in northern Catalonia.
Recently, Kentucky Fire Captain Tony Grider died a month after being electrocuted while carrying out the challenge. He was one of several Kentucky firefighters injured when the ladder bucket they were using to dump water on a group of college students got too close to a power line. Two others were then hurt when they tried to climb the ladder to aid the injured firefighters.
Scottish teenager, Cameron Lancaster, also lost his life when he jumped 80ft into a disused quarry, just after he completed the challenge.
His death prompted the chairperson of the Dublin area Irish Water Safety (IWS) committee Aisling Cushen to warn people of the extreme danger of quarries that can vary widely in depth and are very cold.
“Quarries are extremely dangerous. They are uneven, you never know the depths of them, and they are also extremely cold,” she said.
Ice Bucket Challenge participants had one goal in common – to raise a lot of money and awareness for a wonderful cause – the Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association. And with more than E1.4 million raised in Ireland, this was a job well done.
But safety always comes first – on the farm, at home, or in the water. Shock and awe may not be the only things achieved if we forget this.
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