Online Petitions

Over the years I have kept a pretty comprehensive record of all the online petitions I have signed, amounting to over 500. Of those signatures, 320 of them were on just 6 different petition sites:

To create or sign a petition on the UK Government and Parliament site you are supposed to be a UK citizen or resident and petitions will only be accepted if they are about something that the UK Government or Parliament is responsible for. The advantage of this site is that if a petition gains 10,000 signatures it will receive a Government response and if it gains 100,000 signatures it will be debated in Parliament. Your signature is not recorded until you visit a link in a confirmation email and there is no way to create an account or view all your signatures.

Change.org is one of the best known petition sites and is one of three (the others being Avaaz and 38 Degrees) mentioned in the Wikipedia article about online petitions. Change.org claims to be used by 100 million people in 196 countries. I have an account on change.org which allows me to view all the petitions I have signed and it confirms my own tally of 65 signatures (I have not used any of these sites to create a petition of my own).

Care2 was founded in 1998 and describes itself as a community of 37 million people standing together for good. It is a social network as well as a petition site and claims to have collected over 515 million signatures. I used to have a Care2 account but at some point I deleted it.

38 Degrees is another well known petition site which claims nearly 40 million total actions taken. Why the name 38 degrees you may ask? Nothing to do with temperature but supposedly “the angle at which snowflakes come together to form an avalanche”. Not strictly true since avalanches can occur on slopes less than 25 degrees but Wikipedia reckons that human-triggered avalanches are most frequent at 38 degrees.

Avaaz claims over 43 million members in 194 countries with over 300 million actions taken. Apparently Avaaz means “voice” in several Eastern European, Middle Eastern and Asian languages and was launched in 2007 with the mission to “organise citizens of all nations to close the gap between the world we have and the world most people everywhere want”.

And finally there is SumOfUs which describes itself as a “movement of consumers, workers and shareholders speaking with one voice to counterbalance the growing power of large corporations”. SumOfUs is a bit different from other sites in that it doesn’t appear possible for users to create petitions. Instead a staff of close to 30 people in 7 countries create “campaigns” which users can support by making donations, signing petitions, sending emails etc. Users can also send in suggestions for campaigns.

Apart from these “big 6” petition sites a lot of NGOs run online petitions on their own servers and I have signed some with Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Campaign Against Arms Trade, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Amnesty International etc.

I almost never go to these websites looking for petitions to sign so how come I have signed so many? Some of the sites email me with suggestions and they are almost always about things I agree with so I tend to follow the link and sign. Generally after signing a petition you are prompted to promote it by sharing it on social media and a lot of people do, so I also find petitions on my Facebook feed. Lately I estimate I have been signing an average of about two petitions per day but I don’t like to subject my Facebook friends to a constant stream of petitions so I probably only share about one every couple of weeks.

I am not sure how effective online petitions are. Sites often give examples of cases where they say popular petitions have produced results and I am sure they sometimes do. In most cases when I sign I think there is very little chance of achieving the desired result but it takes very little effort so I generally sign anyway. It can get a bit annoying though, so having written this blog entry I have decided to take a break and not sign any petitions for at least a week.

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3 responses to “Online Petitions

  1. I started one. Not effective at all

    • I think it is pretty clear that most petitions do not achieve their goal so your anecdotal evidence is hardly surprising. On the other hand, many petitions have been effective and petition sites often give examples. A petition should have a clear and realistic goal and be directed at a person or organisation that has the ability to bring about the desired outcome. However, to have a fighting chance it must also gain enough signatures to indicate wide or unexpected public support so success depends not only on there being public support but also on how well the petition is promoted. There is also the issue of whether the petition site can be trusted to gather real signatures from real people who live where they claim to live.

  2. I used to sign a fair few petitions when I got emailed or saw others mention them, but not doing many lately. I think they have lost some value when you get silly responses winning polls (e.g. a certain boat name). Maybe ‘clicktivism’ is dead, but there need to be ways that people can have a voice.

    I wondering if it would have more power if signing had a cost, e.g. you pay a few pence with the money going to a charity. That would show it wasn’t just people clicking something. I really don’t know the answers.

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