Chicago, IL

Are Petitions worthless Slaktivism?


A lot of Energy, but not much Inertia

seaworld-pledge-oscar-wilde-quoteThis post may ruffle some feathers.  Diligent, dedicated and hard working people either individually or collectively are using the power of Social Media to strike out against Marine Mammals in captivity, ‘Drive Hunt’ fishing in Taiji and a myriad of other causes.  In many cases however they are only ‘preaching to the choir’ as their friends, followers and fans are like-minded advocates and activists.  Certainly there is benefit in numbers and a collective sharing of ideas and resources in that effort, but in a lot of cases it lacks true impact or focus to the larger collective non-activists audience of the world.  There is a lot of energy, but not much inertia.

sign the petition seaworld pledgePetition Sites

 “There are more than 45 million users in 196 countries, and every day people use our tools to transform their communities” –
Care2 Make a difference has 25,009,594 members.
But the site’s greater impact may be the thousands of lesser-known petitions–15,000 are created monthly–Forbes


Slaktivism –

In the case of media coverage, sponsor awareness, even specific pressure on places like Taiji and SeaWorld, certainly the collective outcry of a petition can be heard.  Gathering celebrity endorsements that speak out to a very large and diverse audience has a benefit.  Asking the Government officials like Caroline Kennedy and President Obama to leverage negotiations with Japan could be an asset.  However a lot of efforts go wasted on the ears of no one in particular.  Specific petitions are a prime example of this well-intended yet ineffective action.  Petitioning a public company to stop doing what is their primary revenue source has no legal bearing.  Yes, it sends a message to them but will not enact change because the signors of the petition are merely stating “We are not and will not be your customers”, therefore they have no reason to try and talk to you.  Sending a petition to a Japanese prefecture similarly will not influence anything.  The only thing that western pressure has affected to the residents of Taiji and many citizens of Japan is a new case of nationalism and a call against racism.  Remember that the west dropped two nuclear bombs not far from Taiji, because the Japanese people certainly do.

 Petitions give everyone a Voice

Perhaps the primary motivations for the popularity of petitions is the easy access, and sense of fulfillment one gets by feeling that his individual voice may be heard in a choir of thousands.

The reason we have such apathy in society today is because most people believe it’s too difficult to have an impact and/or they don’t believe they personally can make a difference. Because online activism makes it easy to get involved, millions more people than ever before are speaking up and taking action. And that’s a good thing. Ask any hardcore activist you know – their first action probably wasn’t storming the White House. Usually, activists start with simple steps, get some positive feedback, and then take it to a higher level. If we want a more engaged democracy we need to make it easy for as many people as possible to feel the joy of those first simple steps. Internet petitions are effectively a “gateway drug” to more civic engagement. – Founder


What works, and what doesn’t

There are many, many examples of Petitions that do ultimately succeed.  The similarities in these campaigns are not hard to find.  They are targeted at actual decision makers with the power and authority to see the change through bureaucracy.  They address an issue that has public awareness and a shared empathy, and they meet the rules of an official petition as listed here:

  • An online petition is signed by a person unwilling or unable to divulge his/her actual name and residence address.  Few online petitions provide the means to record this data or that require the data as a condition of signing.
  • A site-based petition is signed by a person willing to provide his/her actual name, residence address and (possibly) phone number AND the signer’s email address must be verified by the site by confirming the signer’s unique Internet Protocol address.

An Online Petition to free Lolita

Perhaps one of the biggest examples of a successful petition campaign was the case of  Elephants Removed from Hawthorn Corporation and Moved to Sanctuary.  This was a huge win for petition based activism.  Of course there are hundreds more.  The lessons learned from these successes is the point of this post.



Meaningful Dialogue

Channeling energy into momentum requires an engine, a driveline and a set of gears so that when the rubber hits the road, you obtain traction.  Petitions aimed at the right party with the right message and the right format can impact change.  But inertia means instead of having 15,000 petitions a month posted, ONE petition gets 15,000 signatures.  In the case of petitioning for change in the arena of Marine Mammals in captivity, we believe there are some worthy targets that address real opportunities for change.  Certainly the petition to Southwest Airlines had an impact, similarly asking Sesame Street not to renew their licensing agreement with SeaWorld would be a huge win for activists.  More importantly, getting 1000 local signatures to have the City Council of your city pass a resolution similar to the one in Malibu, California is a worthy action.  In the next post I will lay out 10 of SeaWorlds biggest risk factors and show you how activism can hit them where it hurts.  Even through petitions.

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