Safe in your chair, coffee mug in hand, you add your name, zipcode and email address, and – click – you’ve made a difference.
Or have you?
Each time I send one of those things out into the great beyond, I do wonder a bit – do online petitions ever accomplish anything?
Maybe not as much as I’d like.
Evgeny Mozorov, an American social networking skeptic, calls it Slacktivism:
‘Slacktivism’ is the ideal type of activism for a lazy generation: why bother with sit-ins and the risk of arrest, police brutality, or torture if one can be as loud campaigning in the virtual space? Given the media’s fixation on all things digital — from blogging to social networking to Twitter — every click of your mouse is almost guaranteed to receive immediate media attention, as long as it’s geared towards the noble causes. That media attention doesn’t always translate into campaign effectiveness is only of secondary importance.
One pundit explains why online petitions are not very effective:
No. The reason is that on the internet no one knows if you’re a dog. So legislators, executives, or administrators who are being lobbied by these petitions don’t know if you are a registered voter in their district, or even if you are an American citizen. They don’t know if you are signing multiple times or if you are signing for other people. They don’t know if you’re a robot, a person, or an alien.
Making the rounds this week was a reminder that in-person meetings and phone calls are much more effective in reaching politicians. The advice, from a former Congressional staffer, flatly rejects petitions:
You should NOT be bothering with online petitions or emailing.
Engaging with politicians is also a hot topic in the Indivisible Guide. And even more effective than having to persuade out-of-touch politicians to do the right thing is to vote for those who actually reflect your values.
We all want to do the right thing, and it’s hard to turn down a friend’s request. There are also cases where petitions have made a difference. Recently I added my name to the whitehouse.gov petition calling for Trump to disclose his tax returns – simply because he said nobody cares. It may have been a futile act politically, but the mounting signatures prove him wrong.
Let your judgment be your guide. But start making those calls.