WSU research analyzes social media’s Ice Bucket Challenge

By Darin Watkins, Edward R. Murrow College of Communication

als-ice-bucketPULLMAN, Wash. – Last summer’s Ice Bucket Challenge swept the country – a fundraiser to fight amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) that became a social media phenomenon. But why was it so successful?
Washington State University doctoral student Jared Brickman found that peer pressure, charitable intent and a lack of negative perception were all significant predictors of participation. He specializes in new media technology and cognition in The Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at WSU.

Jared Brickman

His paper, “Social Pressure for Social Good,” recently was selected and presented as the Top Student Paper in the Mass Communication and Society Division by the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.

Being part of a phenomenon

“When it comes to peer pressure, many people said they didn’t want to be seen as ‘left out’ of something their friends were doing,” Brickman said. “The other key factor was that this was a charitable cause where people could do something, even if they couldn’t give money.”

Late WSU President Elson S. Floyd was among those taking the Ice Bucket Challenge last summer for ALS awareness.

ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, had not received much attention in recent years until the Ice Bucket Challenge – which in one year raised $115 million for the nonprofit ALS Association. The challenge involves dumping a bucket of ice water on someone’s head to promote awareness of the disease.

The challenge has gone viral on social media, resulting in more than 17 million people uploading their videos to Facebook. These have been watched by 440 million people for 10 billion times – among the most viral social causes to date. Celebrities such as former U.S. President George W. Bush, Microsoft Founder Bill Gates and Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson have participated.

“We still know very little about the nature of viral content,” said Brickman. “Understanding this phenomenon has tremendous value for charitable organizations, advertisers and communication researchers in that it will help to predict and create future campaigns meant to go viral.”

Energized research, accelerated treatment

At any given time, ALS affects about 20,000 Americans ages 40-70. It is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that causes muscle weakness, paralysis and, ultimately, respiratory failure.

Money raised through the challenge has energized the research community, according to the ALS Association, and will enable an accelerated timeline in treatment development. Funds also will be used for new programs, greater collaborative efforts and novel ideas.

“It’s exciting to be a part of graduate education in the Murrow College,” said Bruce Pinkleton, college associate dean. “Our grad students have had tremendous success this year. They’re conducting cutting-edge research that’s impacting the field, and others are taking notice.”


Jared Brickman, WSU Murrow College graduate student, 509-592-7519,
Darin Watkins, WSU Murrow College communications, 509-335-4456,