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I recently came across change.org, an online petition website. The site contains petitions covering issues from human trafficking to animal rights. Anyone can create a petition, and you can log in and "sign" the ones you support.

Online petitions are a cool idea. They're free, easy to set up, and a way to rally support for a cause that might not otherwise get a lot of attention.

Whether they're actually effective at enacting change is another question entirely. Even when the offense being protested is resolved, it's difficult to gauge to what extent the petition influenced the outcome.

Here's a lighthearted example: A few years ago, an online petition demanded that Warner Bros. release the 1990s rollerblading movie Airborne on DVD.

Bring Airborne To DVD: "I demand that this movie be released on dvd as soon as possible. It's not like people won't buy them. Trust me they will. I know plenty of people that love this movie especially skating fans. There are many films that have been released on dvd that are worse than this..."

Despite the poor rhetoric used in the petition, the movie is one of my all-time favorites, and without a VHS player to my name, I totally supported the cause. Much to my delight, Airborne eventually did come out on DVD, but I have a hard time believing that anyone took this petition seriously. Then again, who knows.

Snopes.com calls online petitions a form of "slacktivism,"  or a lazy attempt to feel like you're doing something without actually making a difference. (The "Post your bra color to raise awareness for breast cancer!" Facebook status campaign is one of the worst offenders these days.) Doubters say that signing an online petition can make a person feel like they've done something helpful--though it isn't--thus stopping them from more active involvement.

Advocates of online petitions argue that they're a great way to start getting people engaged. Proponents cite examples where petitions did make a marked difference, such as a petition to reunite a military member with her dog (which brought widespread attention and was eventually victorious), and a petition asking a Michigan judge to drop a bioterrorism charge against a man with HIV. (The petition was mentioned in court documents.)

If you're interested in creating or signing an online petition, check out change.org, thepetitionsite.org, or The White House's very own petition site, We The People. There may be potential to make a difference, but just remember: if you find a cause you're passionate about, don't stop there.

Have you ever created or signed an online petition?

Photo taken from this photostream and used with permission of a Creative Commons license.

BUDA

You don't answer the question, also, when the petition reaches their target number, what happens, nothing at all?.

by BUDA on October 11, 2013
samanthablann

Thank you for commenting on our blog.

It is difficult, though, to answer the question, "do online petitions work?" There are many variables attributed to the success and/or failure of a petition. However, it is believed that petition websites can definitely add to any potential success a petition may have.

According to npr.org, petitions have gone viral since the origin of petition websites like change.org. We can assume from this that all forms of social media have become involved in the marketing of some (maybe not all) petitions as well, which could lead us to believe that petitions have become quite successful, at least social media wise. The obvious ease of transmission provided by social media has had an impact on the popularity of certain causes, no doubt.  So I would say that there is no guarantee that petition websites work, but they can definitely help with marketing and reaching lots of multiple audiences. However, the success of a petition does not only depend on the amount of people it reaches.

This prompts us to answer your second question: what happens when a petition reaches its target number of signatures?

When you submit a petition through the White House's, We The People website, it will be reviewed by administration and they'll issue a response once a petition meets the signature threshold. However, it only works this way because anyone submitting a petition to We The People is attempting to reach the White House. There is no question about a target.

When it comes to petition websites like change.org and thepetitionsite.org, it is your responsibility to contact your target person(s) when your petition has reached its signature goal. To use the example from the blog, the individuals who created the petition, "Bring Airborne To DVD," probably contacted Warner Bros themselves once (or if) their petition reached its target signatures. Therefore, it is often up to the creators of the petition to make sure something happens once the petition reaches its target signature amount, meaning that petition websites can only take you so far; the rest of your success is up to you.

Hopefully this answers your questions.

by samanthablann on November 5, 2013

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