The Blog

Are ePetitions a Sign of the Times?

My twitter followers can easily track when I'm clearing out my inbox. Every once is a while I go through sundry requests for me to sign petitions, sign where appropriate and then tweet the cause. All of which means everyone who follows me gets up to ten bleeding hearts tweets in quick succession, which is probably a bit annoying. I also do this to my facebook friends, but I have to tolerate the relentless pictures of their children and inspirational quotes, so I think it evens itself out. Anyway, I'm not really worried about annoying people on social media. I'm rally worried about whether or not I should be signing all these petitions.

It's the proliferation of them as much as anything else. I have no idea how many I've signed, in a week, or a month, or ever. I wonder whether the people we are petitioning might feel more pressured if we all got together and agree on one thing which we were all going to lobby for relentlessly until we got it. Obviously I can't make everyone do that, but I could do it myself. I don't sign everything, to be fair. I didn't call for Jeremy Clarkeson to be reinstated or Kay Burley to be sacked. These e-mobs seem sufficiently frivolous to me that I do wonder whether they should be frozen out somehow. But no, the whole point is to give everyone a voice, and that doesn't really work if you give them rules about what topics they can pick. I do only sign for things that I believe in I suppose, but perhaps all I'm doing is contributing to a deluge of disgruntled murmuring when I should be added my voice to a single specific roar of anger. Still, it's better than doing nothing, isn't it?

Isn't it?

Oh god, what if it's worse than doing nothing? Maybe signing an e-petition is the new Watching Have I Got News For You and all I'm really doing is deluding myself that I've done something. Perhaps it's not entirely worse than doing nothing, but at least when I've done nothing I can't pretend that it is otherwise. An indolent me might actually have to accept that action was necessary to make real change happen. Armed with a raft of e-petitions to sign at the click of a button -often literally- I can call the world saved and go to bed.

All of these may well be valid arguments but in the end I still think they're wrong. There aren't that many ways to make the collective ire of a mass of disparate and isolated individuals known. The advent and progress of social media and digital technology mean that it is easier than ever to find out that hundreds of thousands of people all feel the same way and want the same thing. In the last week an estimated 250,000 people attended an anti-austerity rally in London. That's no small figure, but image if you added all the people who weren't free on the day, or couldn't afford to get to London, or didn't live near enough to London. Amazingly, there are entire communities not yet connected to London by High Speed rail links. Maybe you can write off 250,000 people signing a petition, or even turning up to a rally, as a small minority. But that number has to stop somewhere. Can you ignore a million? Can you ignore five million? Can you ignore ten? It isn't the fact that I'm signing that's the problem- it's the fact that you're not.

Okay, so most of the petitions that get signed will probably not be enough, and probably get ignored on their own. But just because you've signed a petition doesn't mean you're done. Again, the internet can help you hear. Get in touch with your MPs. There's a great website which enables you to get in touch with your political representatives, and let them know what you think. For a lot of people the election is the time when they take an interest and voice an opinion. The people you've voted for are YOUR representatives, paid to push your views, needs and interests.

You can also get in touch with big companies, e-mail them, tweet them, say hello on facebook and ask about their workplace safety record or their position on animal testing. Then, when you've done that, tell everyone that you know. Use these platforms to encourage people to get involved, make some noise, make a difference. Don't be put off by the idea that you're signing too many petitions. If you care about it, if you really, genuinely want the thing you're signing for to happen, then you should say so. Just make that signature your promise to take action to make the change you want a reality. Don't let the prospect of failure put you off taking a tiny step in the right direction. And don't let the fact that you've made that tiny step put you off making more and bigger steps. As many as possible. Share your views, have the arguments, make your voice heard and your demands known. We live in an age better equipped that any other to give every single individual a voice.

But don't bother with blogs. We've probably got enough of those.