Hijacked Public Platforms - Change.org
In this age of Internet enabled 'people power' we are regularly confronted by rallying cries of the masses, tired of being ignored by powerful groups. These calls to arms find their way into our inbox, into our 'feeds' and onto our 'walls' on a daily basis. Campaigns form as awareness grow that maybe we should be paying closer attention to the activities of the powerful within our societies. We as individuals on the whole want a better, fairer world and we are shying away from having our decisions so totally shaped by traditional media and party spin; good luck telling those two apart.
Instead we are prompted by a link for us to engage via a petition, sometimes to corporate entities, sometimes to our MPs and sometimes to the government itself. There is a certain exchange of trust required to consciously support one of these campaigns. Those of you who blindly click 'yes' should probably begin reconsidering whether you have any real beliefs of your own.
This trust is based on a few key factors:
Has the originator of this presented the facts of the matter plainly?
Is this a worthy or significant cause?
Do I even agree with the proposed campaign?
If all of these line up positively then yes, I will spend the 30 seconds to add my name to a petition or email my MP. My sense of societal engagement is enhanced, as is my ability to parrot facts at people about a cause I hadnt even heard about before this morning.
For the most part these petitions appear via a small but growing number of online platforms and the detail of curation and scrutiny of these campaigns will of course vary from one to the next. As an example of this all important trust factor lets take a look at three of the most prominent for UK petitions.
First up is the only one with a theoretical link to direct parliamentary debate: https://petition.parliament.uk
Set up during the last parliament, this government curated site has already played to host to some big issues from health care reform to action on foreign aid and asylum seekers. By its very nature it is heavily curated with the joke proposals being relegated to the 'rejected petitions' page(my favourite so far being the charmingly festive "baby youve got to go away"). This means that if Im presented with a link to a petition on said site I know its already had someone give it a once over to check for obvious malicious agendas, or more commonly, trolling. As the petitions include a target mechanism to trigger a governmental response or possibly even a parliamentary debate, I can safely say this is worth the time to at least observe if not to actively take part.
Next up is the membership-lead organisation: https://home.38degrees.org.uk
38 Degrees, named so because "38 Degrees is the angle at which snowflakes come together to form an avalanche", is less like the public noticeboard provided by our first entry and more like an activist community. In fact its proposed petitions must by generated by members and backed by a significant percentage before the organisation as a whole begins its lobbying and media campaign. This fits neatly into my 'trust' prerequisite as the members are aware that they only have a finite amount of resources, so they stick to the bigger issues and do so with considerable focus. Again I know that if a link appears from 38 Degrees that its liable to be connected to a well considered campaign that deserves my focus for at least the next two minutes, three at a push.
Finally its the globally recognised super platform: https://www.change.org
Who amongst you hasnt had some kind of contact with a petition hosted here? Its the de-facto international point for people to raise a grievance and attempt to gain support amongst the population to, as the name suggests, change something. Sounds good in principle but it cannot pass my 'trust' test due to one key issue: no oversight. I knocked up this in about 45 seconds and if 5 of you 'agree' wth me it becomes visible as a campaign that could clog the inboxes of millions. Unlike the government curated or membership voted for alternative platforms, change.org is a prime target for hi-jacking of public sympathy for narrow personal gains. Its also become a place for heart-breakingly misguided attempts at public pressure. A prime example is the petition to ask the UK government to pressure their Indian counterparts to release ex-military "British maritime security guards", a phrase that on closer inspection translates to 'mercenaries' in the employ of US firm AdvanFort. I sympathise with the families of these men but is this really a matter of significant public interest, or is this in fact a 'risk of the trade' that their US employers should have already dealt with?
In summary I do recommend engaging via these platforms, as even if the UK government keeps ignoring them at least the numbers of dissent are becoming part of public record.
But please make sure you trust the research AND intentions of those whom you would give your all prized signature.