Do E-petitions actually help?

How engaged are those millions of people who sign online petitions like the one we all received this week to show President Trump how we disapprove his ‘greatness’? I signed it when it was about to hit two million people. My husband would never sign that petition because he believes it is inaffective.  It’s worth giving this some thought. I remember that in Ghent last year 1200 people confirmed their presence on the Facebookevent to show our City Council that we disapprove that MG real estate rents a whole part of the riverside in our historical city centre for an exlusive party.  A whole week. For almost no money… Only a couple of hundred activits showed up. This raises questions.

  • What more than creating awareness can petitions do?
  • How serious can I take myself as an influencer when I just need one click and two seconds in a low risk environment to condemn e.g. the Keystone pipeline in the U.S. or the slaughtering of elephants in Africa and Asia?

What I learned from studying Communications is that every campaign- to recruit employees, convince consumers or attract activists- starts with Awareness. Ans that is how I consider online petitions: the start of a long term process that creates a community, engages it and moves forward with it. Creating a móvement. Get it?  Like the Civil Rights Movement in the sixties when people risked getting arrested, beaten up or even killed. Those people took a lot more risks than what we do with our domestic-one-click-policy.

So what more can we do? It is always interesting to do your research before you sign so you can find out what organisation is serious about what he asks from you:

  • What’s the organisation behind the petition?
  • Is it a fallacy to get my data or not?
  • Who sponsors this petition? If it’s a government you should be aware that you are giving your data to an institution whose actions you are questioning.
  • Does this petition have an achievable target (we all want clean air but it is more interesting to target for example Volkswagen to forbid them to produce cars until they become honest about their carbon dioxide emmissions)?
  • What good results came out of their previous petitions ( Avaaz mobilized thousands of people during the Climate summit in Paris, influenced policy-makers to protect our oceans…)

Put yourself to the test: If this small research already takes too much time & clicks for you, how motivated are you really to take part in today’s society?

Participatory democracy

© Jozef Devillé. Click image for more.

A good petition connects motivated people, a good petition means hard work for the ones who created it because after Awareness comes Interest, and after that, Conviction, Desire, Action and hopefully Satisfaction. A good petition means long campaigning, organising and lobbying.

So is signing a petition a good thing? I am sure it is. To me personally, it proves that people are inherent good. That most people want a beautiful society to grow up in. And the fact that we dó have to create awareness for our clean air & water proves that the ones who are in charge will never put society and it’s people first. Even more: with governments & corporations hacking our datas, we can say that wars are being fought now on a digital level and e-petitions are a part of it. I find that quite embarrasssing. This is not how mankind should evolve in the 21st Century.

A good petition means long campaigning, organising and lobbying.

So this is the deal: we have to do it ourselves. Taking action. Just signing a petition behind your computer in your action figure pijama is not going to change anything. By signing so you should realize it is just the first step of a much bigger commitment: in becoming involved in what could be a participatory democracy¹ ( actually the whole internet (activism) is a first step in having a mature relationship with digital data).

I didn’t grow up with ICT (just like the ones in charge who prefer to stick with their old school thinking)  but I know what my mother would have said if I did: “Always be aware that what you write and do on the internet can be traced. Take full responsibility over your actions, and start by doing your research. That, Sophie, is called maturity. ”

Naah, she wouldn’t have said this. It sounds too ‘mommy’. I made it up. But it’s true.




  1. Oxford English Dictionnary,[Def.] Individual participation in political decision-making, especially by direct action rather than through elected representatives.
Tags: ,
Previous Post Next Post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.