Sunday, September 28, 2008

Online petitions: You're not solving anything

Perhaps this post will end up being an unintended exploration of the mind of a very cynical man, rather than the snarky expose of affectation that it's intended to be. That all depends on the approach of the reader, but this issue is one which has annoyed me for a while now and, come Hell or high water - or low opinion - rant about it I shall.

Perusing my Facebook News Feed, I notice that one of my friends had taken the initiative to join the group "Say NO to Albino Killings in Tanzania, Please Sign to get 10000 Signatures." A group featuring a heart-rending photograph of a badly beaten and somewhat bored looking Albino man, which is accompanied by a description that claims to be seeking actually 100,000 signatures, and not the ten thousand which the name leads us to believe.

All in all, it could be seeking - and in fact have - a billion signatures. My question is: Who cares?


A typical example of a courageous Internet Activist, crusading tirelessly in the name of justice.

What do people hope to achieve by signing up to online petitions? Do they think that the government will suddenly do an about-face on their stance towards the issue†1 merely because 100,000 anonymous signatures fell on someone's desk? Of course! The economy of an entire nation could be reshuffled and all international relations reevaluated because 100,000 people on the Internet†2 decided to click "join". Makes perfect sense.

Maybe they're not really arrogant (or naive) enough to think that they could convince the government to change their position. Maybe they just believe that the government doesn't even know about these atrocities, and a petition delivered to the right pair of hands could get the people in charge to sit up and take notice.

I'm sorry, I call bullshit. Are you telling me that the city-college dropout who founded the group in question actually knows more about international human rights issues than official government media liaisons, world-traveling ambassadors, and professional intelligence operatives? Give me a break.

Finally, the argument could be made that these people aren't really hoping to effect any change through their actions. They're just doing something in order to, you know, do something. Surely doing something is better than doing nothing. As noble as that may seem to the credulous ear,†3†4 I'm sorry to point out that you're not doing anything. Well, besides placating your sense of self-satisfaction, that is.

If you really want to do something, then raise money. Convince your employer to donate. Send packages of food or replacement mine-detector batteries to the United Nations. Travel to the afflicted regions and help to build schools and hospitals. In other words, do something real. Clicking a link and then forgetting about it is not real.

The reason online petitions are fundamentally wrong is because it achieves nothing, yet makes those who "sign" feel like they're doing something. It imbues them with a smug sense of accomplishment that may be enough to prevent them from doing something that could potentially make a difference. I mean, you already signed the online petition, why should you go out and donate money, too? Am I right?

In summary, online petitions are not only pointless, they're counter-productive. By signing them you only succeed in proving that you're a smug asshole who wants to be Bono without actually leaving your comfy, air conditioned office.

I realize that this somewhat Facebook-related post is immediately preceded by another Facebook-related post. I apologize for this and hope that the wanton monotony of my life will subside enough for this not to happen again.


1. Which I think it's safe to assume is a stance of unmitigated apathy, otherwise the group wouldn't exist in the first place.

2. Or about one fifth of the membership of Fark.com

3. Or eye. Whatever.

4. Yes, I'm using footnotes! Just one more step towards turning everything on the Web into Wiki-goddamn-pedia... Or worse, a graduate dissertation.

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