[saymaListserv] FWD: Internet Petitions

Michael Shell BrightCrow at InfoAve.Net
Fri May 26 17:36:48 JEST 2000


Many of us receive, sign and pass on Internet petitions regarding causes
toward which we feel some commitment.  However, often these petitions are
poorly designed and tracked technically, out of date or, worse, inaccurate.

A colleague of my just passed along the following information about such
petitions, and I think it might be useful to all of us.

Hope you find it helpful.


<><><><><><>Forwarded Message<><><><><><><>
From: Adgagne at aol.com
Date: Thu, 25 May 2000 00:09:12 EDT
Subject: QLEFT: internet petitions

hello all,

i hope this message is helpful, and that you share it with others.  there
are problems with most internet petitions (not all, but most).

as for internet petitions in general - usually, they are not tracked or
managed, meaning that the same name(s) appear repeatedly on many separate
emails.  this reduces credibility.  sometimes they are sent to an email
address not designed for high volume.  the address then gets so clogged,
the service shuts down the account.  people who send these petitions out
generally do NOT make provisions for these problems.

it is NOT efficient to just sign onto a petition and send it, because the
individual names become impossible to track.  if a government or business
type sees the same name twice, they will tend to dismiss the petition, as
internet petitions are often dismissed anyway.  successful, efficient
internet petitions usually recommend printing out a hard copy for
signatures, or sending from a website set up for the purpose.  at the very
least, there will be a dedicated email address from which the petition can
be managed.

here is more on internet petitions from NetAction, a national nonprofit
organization dedicated to promoting use of the Internet for effective
grassroots action:

Typical problems include:

 - The petitions become logarithmically more difficult to coordinate as
they go in different directions.  The originator will need to sort through
hundreds, possibly thousands of names on multiple copies to make the
petitions useful.

 - Frequently, the petitions don't have an expiration date, so readers
don't know whether the petition action is still valid.  And if the petition
doesn't expire, it may never go away!

 - The petitions are also a headache for service providers, since the
coordinator's mailbox may fill up and the server will start turning away
mail.  The rejected mail can include items necessary for the recipient's
business and personal life.

 - Many service providers have chosen to shut down email accounts because
of this problem.  It's like spam to them when it clogs processes and
information for other users, wastes their resources, and takes their time
away from their regular duties.

 - And finally, invalid petitions diminish the good will of people who care
about the issue the petition addresses.  If and when they realize their
efforts to circulate the petition are just adding to a larger problem, they
won't feel great about it, and may hesitate to express their support for
another cause in the future.

In the absence of experience, these petitions are models for others.
However, many become a social virus or "harmless" terrorism of a sort.
Petitions are usually genuine attempts to help a cause, but if the result
is ignored and totally ineffective, it's not worth the electrons it started
out with.  These petitions don't work for a number of reasons, and
NetAction believes they should be discouraged.

Effective use of web-based petitions is discussed on NetAction's Virtual
Activist Training site, at:


For general tips on making effective use of technology for advocacy, see
Phil Agre's excellent article, "Designing Effective Action Alerts," at:


EDITOR'S NOTE: An early draft of this article has been circulated online
without NetAction's authorization.  This is the final version and it
reflects NetAction's views on this topic.


i hope this will clear up the problems with internet petitions.  if it is
not clear, please contact me for more info.  if it is clear, please save
this info for future reference, and feel free to share it with others.
there are resources on this subject at:


best wishes,

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