Are Online Petitions a Legitimate Advocacy Tool?

by Chris Nehls // Aug 20, 2014 Engagement

Particularly in progressive political circles, online petitions have become a popular advocacy tool in recent years. The efficacy of these platforms to create policy change, however, is certainly in doubt.

For a tool like the White House’s We the People petition site, problems seem to stem from the neglect of those running it. Critics of petition sites run by private entities like Change.org or Care2, however, point to limits places on the petition process as part of a moneymaking enterprise. Writing for Vice’s Motherboard blog, Nithin Coca criticizes Change.org for privileging simple, smaller-scale petitions in the name of monetizing the 75 million names it collects and then sells to major advocacy groups and political party offices.

Nathan Empsall defends online petition sites in a lengthy and thoughtful blog on Medium. “Online petitions are the biggest digital step yet in empowering local citizens,” he writes, “are one tool among many in the campaign toolbox, and can even sometimes win campaigns and secure progress all on their own.” Furthermore, the rebuts Coca’s critique that money generated by for-profit petition sites drain resources from real reform or relief efforts that would be best served by free open-source petition tools.

Are online petitions a helpful advocacy tool? Wasteful clicktivism? Are they an email-harvesting, moneymaking scam? Feel free to open up the debate in the comments section below.

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