I am subscribed to the excellent YouTube channel, Idea Channel.
They posted a video about the value of social media posts, focusing on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.
The video says a lot of what I've been thinking. Take a look.
After viewing, I scrolled through some comments, where I ran into the same argument I've been seeing since this challenge went viral.
Those comments prompted me to put on my Rhetoric Instructor Hat and write the following:
I've read the complaint that this challenge only went viral because it satisfies people's narcissistic desires; it feeds the ego, and according to those doing the complaining, that's shameful.
I feel pretty comfortable saying this complaint is stupid. And my reasons for saying that address this question of value.
The ice bucket challenge is a call to action that leans primarily on appeals to ethos and pathos to make its case.
The ethos appeal, while it is not what people are complaining about, is important. It goes like this: You are a member of my social network and I am calling you out as a friend who cares about a cause. I believe our social ties should be enough to prompt you to act.
That's a familiar appeal on social networks, but by itself, this appeal often leads to token support and nothing more. A profile pic changes color for a week (or 8). A cause is "liked" or shared.
In rhetoric, a strong call to action combines appeals, and that is what the ice bucket challenge did.
The pathos appeal (the one people are complaining about) goes like this: For many people, it feels good, exhilarating, fun, and satisfying when a bunch of people watch you perform a silly public act - even better when some of them praise you for that. After seeing a member of your social network enjoy those feelings, there is an emotional push to follow suit. That push is made all the stronger when you have been called out by name. The call out gives you permission to step across the socially constructed convention that tells us (well, most of us) not to draw too much attention to ourselves.
Those are very strong appeals, and there is nothing wrong with them. Adding the appeal to pathos is what gave this phenomenon it's value. The combination of appeals drove, in part, the impressive raising of funds and awareness.
And on a related note, we should not shame a person who vies for public attention through a silly act in the name of a cause. For many, it is fun to perform and it is thrilling when people approve of your performance. Even when it is something silly, those emotional responses are valid and worth seeking.
The people who tsk-tsk that kind of behavior are frowning on any public displays that fall outside of what they have deemed appropriate. The term for such a person is "stick-in-the-mud." And I have very little patience for such people.