For the past few years I have been witnessing a steadily increasing torrent of ePetitions making their way into my inbox. Now don’t get me wrong; they are not spam and I have personally invited them to tempt me with their good causes, pressing issues and downright travesty. However, I now find myself a little concerned that if we collectively sign too many, we could initiate the effect of dulling the keen-edged weapon that is the internet petition.
A few years ago, any politician, CEO, media mogul or ignorant bastard would have been gob-smacked to find a petition dropped into their laps (digitally speaking) that was signed by hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people. Consequently, it would have been very likely that whoever the petition was aimed at, be it a government or a misbehaving corporation, would have been pretty unnerved to find their dodgy dealings have attracted the attention of so many and galvanised them into action – albeit the small action of filling in a box and clicking send. At this point of its life, the ePetition is a very powerful tool.
It occurred to me just the other day, though, that by signing all of the petitions sent to me, I may soon found myself sitting on a lonely forgotten mountainside with that kid ; you know, the one who kept shouting, “Wolf! Wolf!”
Over the past year I have signed ePetitions on tar sands, the Amazon, protecting the bees, Syrian atrocities (twice), climate change, the NHS, plastic bags, energy prices, bankers bonuses, fracking, ousting Jeremy Hunt, saving the Rhino, saving this and saving that. I’m a true armchair activist, which of course is fine, but where I’ve previously thought I may be doing some good (ePetitions have been proved to work in the past), I may also need to get a little more picky if that do-gooding is to continue.
Of course ePetitions are a great way of sharing an issue that needs addressing and they will still make people sit up and take notice, plus the fact that the bad guys know that so many of us know what they are up to is wonderful.
However, with all the ePetitions in circulation and people signing everything (like I used to) it won’t be long before 500,000 signatures can be simply brushed aside by the people we’re attempting to influence.
I don’t think that ePetitions should stop; not at all. I just think that those of us who do like to take action by right clicking should spare a thought for the on-going potency of these petitions. It would be very easy for them to loose their muscle if we over-use them. In a way, the biggest enemy of the ePetition is (ironically) it’s biggest advantage: the ease with which one can sign them. I have cookies on my computer so that whenever I decide to sign by filling in my email, all I have to do is push ‘g’ and then send. The rest is done for me. Perhaps if we had to undergo a little more work to get these things signed, then we would only sign the stuff that really matters to us.
Failing that, and since coming to the realisation that signing every ePetition that finds its way to my inbox may not be for the best, I have now designed my own personal hierarchy for ePetitions (designed being a very loose word here):
If it’s something I don’t really care about – delete.
If it’s something I care about, but don’t feel strongly enough to sign – spare a thought, delete.
If it’s something I care and feel strongly about – sign.
If I feel it’s imperative that the issue is fixed now – sign and share on facebook and twitter.
If you like, please feel free to follow my easy four-step guide to not dulling the edge of the ePetition and then carry on signing what you feel you must while protecting the integrity of this potentially very powerful tool. Once this is spent, finding another such device to influence the untouchables may take years, so let’s preserve this one while we still can. Thanks.
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Oh, and just in case you are wondering; there isn’t in fact a petition to sign here, I just used that in the title to try and attract your attention, but you can say something in the comments box if you’d like. If I get more than 3 comments, I may just change the world…