Focus on Internet petitions

Email and Online Petitions Will Help Save Lives, Change Laws, and Influence Government Leaders-Truth! & Fiction!



Summary of 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 Truth:

The effectiveness of these petitions depends on a number of factors, but there are problems with both methods.

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.

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 slippery.

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 politicians..  Yet hundreds of thousands of people have given this website their personal information including addresses, business information, and email addresses.

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.