10 June 2011

Alice, bucket lists, and benevolent viruses

This week I found myself near the centre of a bit of a viral storm.

On Tuesday, I saw this tweet from Michael Moran via India Knight:

Tweet from Michael Moran about Alice's bucket list

I clicked and I found Alice's bucket list. Alice is a brave, articulate and sweet 15 year old girl who is, infuriatingly and utterly unfairly, dying of cancer. I was struck by her brilliant attitude, and the simplicity, and achievablity, of most of the “bucket list” she had created – the list of things she wants to do before that utter bastard, cancer, cuts her life too short.

I know I have media types, journalists, and high profile professionals on my Twitter follower list. I know that I have people with showbiz connections, or music business connections, or who work in PR, or who have creative careers such as photography. I knew, when I saw Alice's list, that I could reach people via Twitter that could help her. And so, I sent this tweet:

Tweet from me with a link to Alice's bucket list

Things started to go a bit nuts after that.

My tweet was retweeted hundreds of times. And my own timeline was inundated, with offers from photographers, beauty therapists, and many others, trying to find out how to help Alice. Repeatedly I had to explain – never begrudgingly, always touched – that I didn't have a personal connection to Alice, and that I couldn't help them get in touch with her; I was just passing it on.

Some people – despite the evidence to the contrary provided by the photo of the decrepit middle-aged woman in my avatar – misunderstood and thought I was the 15-year-old girl with terminal cancer, and I had misguided but sweet messages urging people to help me meet Take That or design an Emma Bridgewater mug.  (Both of those are things I wouldn't mind doing; where Alice and I part ways is in the whole “swimming with sharks” thing…)

A Hollyoaks actress tweeted me offering her help. People were contacting me asking what hashtag we should use to make the tweets consistent and to trend. Somehow a lot of people thought I was a lot more than the messenger. I didn't get annoyed by the flood of confused tweets, though; they all came from good hearts and best intentions.

At the same time, of course, Michael Moran's tweet, and India Knight's retweet, were spreading as well. Everyone was telling everyone. Soon Alice's blog was flooded with responses from incredibly generous people.

By the next day, Alice had gone global. Celebrities and journalists were talking about her, and to her. She was mentioned in Prime Minister's Questions, and covered in the news.The hashtag #alicebucketlist was trending. In a strange game of Chinese whispers, people were saying that Alice's dying wish was to trend on Twitter – which of course wasn't the case. What she wanted was for people to sign up for bone marrow donation, and to sponsor her sister in a run to raise money for cancer research. If I was overwhelmed by the response I was getting from the small part I played, I can only imagine what things are like for Alice and her family.

Lots of people signed up to the bone marrow register. Her little sister raised £10,000. Hundreds and hundreds of people have visited her blog and spoke of her inspirational attitude and offered whatever help they can to help her cross things off her bucket list.

Obviously, I'm not solely responsible for drawing everyone's attention to Alice; Michael Moran's tweet to India Knight was retweeted over 50 times, and who knows where else it came from, but it spread like wildfire, and I was one of the people who helped fan the flames. I don't know where Michael Moran found out about the bucket list. So who knows how many directions this came from. All I know is that I'm kinda proud that I helped. I'm so happy that people have registered as bone marrow donors as a direct result of my tweet, and that I helped Alice with at least one of the items on her list.

Social media sites are often regarded with suspicion. It's easy to climb on the wrong bandwagon, to get swept up in something that turns out to be wrong or goes too far. When things go viral, they can also go in a malicious direction. People get flamed; people get bullied; people get ruined. But this week, I saw the enormous benevolence it can offer, and the incredible generosity and goodness of a lot of people out there. On a purely selfish note, in a week that was personally not too great for me, I found something that gave me the grains of hope and optimism that I needed. And I'm pretty sure it helped Alice a little bit too. I hope it did. Rock on, Twitter.


UPDATE 19th June

It seems that Alice's sudden fame has been something of a poisoned chalice, judging by her more recent blog posts, and by some of the comments made to me on Twitter. This makes me feel unspeakably sad. I hope that positives – the increase in donors, and Alice meeting Take That amongst them – keep her and her family feeling positive about the whole experience.


  1. Superb! Twitter is, indeed, a force for good, at times. Good work, m'lady. x

  2. I found out about Alice from the Facebook profile of my friend & former colleague Jordan Paramor. I think she sort of knows the family.

    India's the best-connected person I know on Twitter so I thought that she would be the best vector to help the idea get to the wides number of people.

    A lot of the time, most of the time, messing around on social media seems like a silly waste of time. Even though it's sort of my job.

    When you see something like this happen,. you realise what a force for good it can be - and should be more often.

  3. I tried to correct people who were claiming that her dying wish was to trend. I tried to explain bone marrow donation to people and gave them the link to her actual bucket list. Mostly I got threats and foul insults. People were refusing to read her blog so they could continue to pretend that all they had to do was RT something and they were all congratulating each other and themselves for doing less than nothing. Including one guy who started collecting money from followers for a donation fund despite her family asking people NOT to do this, so Alices family now have to deal with that as well. It was actually one of the most unpleasant nights Iv spend on twitter. Its lucky alice herself didn't join until after the storm had died down a bit.

  4. @Anonymous: I'm pleased to say I didn't witness any of that. It's certainly the downside of what heppens when something goes viral and I'm sorry you had abuse over it. That's awful. You're absolutely right that she doesn't care about trending on Twitter. I'm so sorry to hear you got threats and insults.

    I'm shocked that someone was collecting money on her behalf; she explicitly says in her blog that she doesn't want money. But some good things still came out of this and I hope that this is the lasting legacy of her bucket list - along with Alice getting to go to Alton Towers and Cadbury World, meet Take That and the other things on her list, of course.

  5. a DJ on twitter, @MinutesofMayhem is using alice and her story to get as much publicity as he can for himself. besides setting up a donation fund hes trying to organize a celeb auction/benefit. its like he thinks hes the official dj of a teenagers death.

  6. I've just looked at his timeline and I see what you mean. She has said a) she doesn't want money and b) she's too ill to travel, and he's ridden roughshod over her wishes. And he talks about her as though she's already dead sometimes. On the up side, though, she's raised awareness of bone marrow donation. I hope that this is the lasting legacy of the phenomenon (which won't last long, such is the Internet). And I hope she meets Take That, too. :-)