Social media challenges bring attention to important issues, create community

Aran Sonnad-Joshi

In 2014, the Ice Bucket Challenge captured the attention of people around the world as participants, including celebrities and politicians, began posting videos of themselves online dumping buckets of ice water on their heads to raise awareness for ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis).

The challenge quickly spread and raised $220 million for the ALS Association and millions more for other ALS charities

With the rise of social media trends such as “Devious Licks” and the “Tide Pod Challenge,” it might seem like these challenges are just dangerous trends that encourage users to do harmful things for internet recognition. However, they are not inherently bad. The same forces that cause people to follow harmful trends can also be used to promote positive challenges, like the Ice Bucket challenge.

Social media platforms are commonly used to raise awareness since they allow for information to be spread quickly. Social media challenges can be even more effective than just spreading information because they invite users to participate. In 2014, the “#NoMakeupSelfie” challenge in the UK encouraged people to post selfies of themselves in response to traditional beauty standards. Soon, the challenge was paired with cancer research donations and, as the challenge spread throughout the UK and to other countries, it raised millions for cancer research.

Similarly, the annual “Movember” challenge, which started in 2003, encourages men to grow mustaches in the month of November to raise awareness for health issues such as prostate cancer and suicide prevention. Although “Movember” began before social media gained popularity, the challenge has grown across platforms. While social media can be used for harmful purposes, challenges also have the potential to shine light on important issues by taking advantage of social media’s propensity for viral content.

Besides raising awareness, social media challenges can also inspire users to be creative and work together. Participants in 2014’s mannequin challenge had to collaborate to approach the challenge in interesting and unique ways. As the challenge continued, the videos got increasingly complex. Similarly, trick shot challenges also require creativity to design and perform trick shots that require both luck and skill. 

These both demonstrate that social media challenges do not have to be dangerous and can simply be tests of talent and ingenuity. Social media can often seem very self-centered, but challenges like these can actually bring people together for a common goal. As investigations into Facebook’s disregard for privacy continue following the emergence of two whistleblowers, it has become apparent that social media often spreads divisive content, and, in these times, we could all use a laugh. Social media challenges provide a way for internet users to connect and come together virtually.