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Email and Online
Petitions Will Help Save Lives, Change Laws, and Influence Government
eRumor One of the new trends on
the Internet is petitions. Some ask you to add your name to
the bottom of an email and send it to your friends. Others ask
you to go to a website to register your opinion. Are these
valid? Do they work?
The effectiveness of these petitions depends on a number of factors,
but there are problems with both methods.
EMAIL PETITIONS The email versions
are usually forwarded from person to person and have a long list of
names or email addresses at the bottom. The recipient of the
email is asked to add his or her name and forward it to others.
The main problem with many of these email petitions is that a
surprising number of them do not seem to have a final
destination. In other words, they keep circulating from person
to person, but there's no information about who is going to give the
names to the government agency, politician, celebrity or whoever is
supposed to receive them.
Other email petitions do have instructions, usually to
forward the latest version to the originator's email address when a
certain number of names have been accumulated.. Others ask that when
the goal of names has been reached, the email be forwarded directly to the
White House or wherever.
If you want to add your name to one
of these Internet petitions, that's your privilege but we have to tell you that in our
experience, none of them has accomplished its purpose.
The biggest problem with email petitions is that they do
not really carry the weight that people normally associate with
petitions. Typical paper petitions are valid because real people have signed
them with real signatures and, presumably, real addresses.
When petitions are circulated to qualify a political candidate for
public office or an initiative is launched to change a law, the
petitions are accepted only if a minimum number of the signers can
later be validated by comparing name and address information with known
records such as voter registration data. The names on an email petition, however, can be
easily fabricated. There is no way of knowing whether the
alleged "signers" really attached their names or if
someone simply created or borrowed a list of names and pasted them
into the email. As a result, an email with a lot of names on
it does not really say much of significance.
ONLINE PETITIONS The online petitions that
ask you to register your name at a website potentially carry more clout because they ask for names and
addresses, although there is still the lack of a signature (unless
electronic signatures become popular for petitions). That
leaves open the question of whether the names and addresses have
been fabricated or borrowed.
The biggest question with regard to online petitions, however, is
who is sponsoring them and why? This is where it gets a little
One of the largest online petition websites does not list the names
of any of the people running it, has no information about the
organization or organizations associated with it, if any, and gives
no evidence that the petitions they sponsor have been presented to
hundreds of thousands of people have given this website their
personal information including addresses, business information, and
If the website was not committed to the petition campaigns, why
would it exist?
The answer is: mailing lists.
Those hundreds of thousands of names, addresses, phone numbers, and
email addresses are a gold mine for marketers who use the lists to
send various kinds of solicitations and they can make a fortune
renting or selling the names to other businesses. The online
petition sites have been a sensational source of not only new names for
mailing lists but names of people who can be identified as having
particular interests such as supporting conservative or liberal
causes, environmental issues, animals rights, etc.
There is nothing wrong with businesses and
other organizations accumulating mailing lists and there is nothing
wrong with any of us ending up on one...as long as we know and give
approval for it.
If you are tempted to sign an online petition, make sure the
sponsoring site either discloses, or responds to your questions
about, several things:
1. Who owns, sponsors, or runs the site either individually or
organizationally? Don't accept vague descriptions such as,
"Our site has been organized by people who believe in
protecting the environment." What are the names of
the individuals or groups involved?
2. Can they attest that their petitions have been presented to
people or organizations where the petitions would do any good? Will
they give specifics so you could check out their claims?
3. Will they honor your request to not be included in any
mailing list. All you want to do is sign the petition and be
on your way.
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