Okay, not all online petitions are stupid, but a vast majority of them blasted regularly across social media and through email are. Stupid.
Petitions can serve a truly great purpose as a grassroots way to advocate change. When it directly relates to legislation, a petition is often the way that the desire of the people to change something actually becomes a part of the legislative process. It forces a ballot measure, or a vote or at the very least a discussion in a political forum.
However, with the ease of creating online petitions (thanks MoveOn.org which uses petition more as online polling than anything) there seems to be a daily barrage of “please sign this petition” posts for anything and everything from “We’re Mad At Target” to “Please Don’t Kill These Puppies Because They Are So Cute.”
It makes me wonder about the intelligence of some petition posters. Did you actually read the petition? Is it advocating something achievable? Or are we all just electronically signing our names so that some person, group or newly-formed organization for or against something can say, “Look how many people agree with us!” and pat themselves on the back?
Sure, hundreds of thousands of individuals expressing their displeasure with the action or stance of a government, a policy or an organization’s actions can force a reevaluation of that action, stance or policy, but many of these petitions are not specific enough to mean anything. If they do not directly relate to an action that should be taken, it’s just a bunch of people screaming “We think this!” online, and the more times that happens, the less any of it means.
The next time someone says “Please sign this petition, it’s for a good cause,” do everyone in your contact a list and social media network a favor and read it. Is it specific? Is it advocating something actionable? Is it likely to have a real impact on the policy or actions of an individual, company or organization? If the answer to all of these questions is yes, great, post it. If not, do us all a favor and stop the madness.
The reason it matters is that the more online petitions start to resemble those annoying LinkedIn invites that everyone deletes, the less they mean, the less people read them and the less impact the ones that truly matter will have in creating results. It’s not that hard to get a lot of people to click a button and “sign” their name. After all, 416,000 people like the Facebook page for Cotton. Seriously, cotton. So let’s all agree that “Cheese is awesome” is true, but doesn’t need a petition stating that fact, and save this unique ability to express mass opinion quickly and emphatically for issues, and more importantly actions, that truly matter.
(Check box to electronically sign your name here – if you agree)