Remember old-school petitions? Ink-blotted, curled-edge sheets of A4 featuring a freehand grid attached to a clipboard.
If you agreed with the issue you were being asked to put your name to, you’d add your details and think no more of it.
You certainly wouldn’t have been unduly pressured into signing, and it would have been out of the question for the same petitioner to approach a second time and request you sign-up to an entirely different campaign.
Not so nowadays. A quick click and you’re one of thousands – sometimes hundreds of thousands – lending their names to all sorts of issues, only the reach now is national and international, with campaigners seeking to force governments and multinational corporations to make policy changes.
And it’s working. Companies are paying attention to online petitions, especially when they start racking up big. When 1,000 names are reached, the target shifts up to 5,000, then to 10,000 and so on, up into the 100,000s for certain causes. At 100,000, Parliament will consider debating the issue.
It’s the way those big numbers are reached that might not be so obvious. Become a so-called 21st century ‘clicktivist’ and prepare for a flood of requests to sign other petitions, which have nothing in common with the one you originally committed to. It’s easy to unsubscribe, but how many don’t, and unthinkingly go on clicking their backing for cause-after-issue-after-campaign?
Thousands, if one of the most popular clicktivist websites can be trusted as a reliable yardstick. It boasts 100,000s of people on petitions for a staggering 17,000-plus campaigns.
When the clicking slows, the hectoring, pleading emails start, coupled with tweets, urging a final effort to get the petition to the next milestone, or through the magic 100,000 mark.
Companies should certainly take note of clicktivism, but be mindful of the fact that many people with little or no interest in particular issues are being pressed, cajoled, pleaded with, to sign myriad petitions.
It’s impossible to determine from the outside how many of the signatories on a 100,000 name petition care passionately, a little, or at all, about the cause they’ve clicked to support. How many simply feel that by adding their name they’re ‘doing their bit’, or salving their conscience?
Beware, then, the online petition. But consider, too, the mechanics behind it, and the fact that of the thousands who sign, many might not be at all bothered about what you are supposed to have done, or not done.