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Hacking the Ice Bucket Challenge for justice

Palestinian journalist Ayman al-Aloul accepts the Rubble Bucket Challenge. (Youtube Still)

Palestinian journalist Ayman al-Aloul accepts the Rubble Bucket Challenge. (Youtube Still)

If you have a Facebook profile — and even if you don’t — chances are you’ve seen your friends, friends of friends, celebrity crushes and former presidents pouring buckets of ice water on themselves. You may even have been tapped to do the same. The Ice Bucket Challenge was dreamed up as a way to raise research funding for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, a fatal and degenerative disease that slowly attacks motor neurons and eventually leaves those it afflicts unable to walk, talk, eat or even breathe without assistance. As it’s reached a fever pitch this past month, users are starting to “hack” the challenge for other causes.

The rules of the original challenge are simple: Either donate $100 to the ALS Association to stay dry, or donate $10 and, on camera, drop a bucket of ice water on your head for all your Facebook friends to see. In the post of your video, nominate a few friends to make the same choice. Since it started a number of weeks ago, people have responded to the challenge by expanding their donations to similar charities, or rejecting it outright because of questions about everything from how the ALS Association allocates its funding to the use of water itself. Most recently, the challenge has been hacked to raise attention and, in one case, money for two of this summer’s biggest news stories.

In the weeks since police in Ferguson, Mo., shot and killed unarmed teenager Michael Brown, many have used their own Ice Bucket Challenge to raise awareness of ongoing racial violence and funds for the Organization for Black Struggle — a longtime community group in the St. Louis area seeking to hire a full-time on-the-ground organizer in Ferguson. In his Ice Bucket Hack, Sha Grogan-Brown of the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance echoed a common refrain of the hacks: “I hope this cold water is a shock to the system — mine, yours and all of ours — to call attention to the reality of racism and police brutality in the United States, and to take action to end it.” The rules of the hack are only slightly altered: dump ice water on your head and donate $40 to the Organization for Black Struggle, then tag your friends to do the same.

Meanwhile, Palestinians have challenged Facebook users to pour something else on their heads entirely. The Rubble Bucket Challenge gained notoriety with a video from Palestinian journalist Ayman al-Aloul. He explains that in trying to make his own Ice Bucket Challenge video, “We looked for a bucket of water, but the use of water is more important than to empty over our heads…We do not have water, but this [rubble] is what we have.” Since the beginning of Operation Defensive Edge in July — and for years before — many Palestinians have gone without basic amenities like water and electricity. As he stands in front of what appears to be the remains of a bombed buildling in Gaza, another man pours a bucket of literal rubble from the scene over al-Aloul’s head.

However, the Rubble Bucket Challenge was created by Gazan student Maysam Yusef, who made a Facebook page for it the day before al-Aloul released his video on August 22. There is no donation component to the Rubble Bucket Challenge, but Yusef and al-Aloul urge anyone sympathetic to Gaza to participate and raise awareness of the situation there. In the challenge’s most high-profile import, activists with the U.S.-based peace group CODEPINK poured buckets of rubble on their heads last week outside of the White House and in San Francisco.

While the Ice Bucket Challenge has shown the power of memes — with the ALS Association raising an impressive $80 million in just a few weeks —it will likely fade from our newsfeeds before too long. Nevertheless, the examples above might serve as a model for how to hack viral trends in the future.