Electronic Petitions

(Last change: 12 January 1999.)

Email petitions. How could anyone think they're bad? They respond to real-world situations; they cry out against injustice. Isn't that good?

Unfortunately, no.

There are numerous problems with pass-it-along email petitions:

If you want to do good, it's far more effective to directly call or write to the politicians or companies in question -- especially if you hand-write your own letter on actual paper. People in power are far more impressed by handwritten letters than by an emailed list of names.

I've tried on numerous occasions to contact the originators of petitions to make sure that my above qualms were justified. I've never received a response from an originator; usually mail to the given address bounces, indicating that the originator's account has already been shut down. But I have received one automated response from a system administrator, after the recent (as of this writing) Brandeis save-the-Afghani-women email petition. The automated response verified all of my points above. It added:

If you wish to learn how to do something productive about women's rights in Afghanistan, please refer to the web sites run by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Feminist Majority...

The latter is sponsoring a real petition which should be sent only via physical mail or fax, where it might have some effect. Virtual signatures are virtually useless at best, and at worst lull people into believing that no real action is needed. The text you received was mostly plagiarized from the real petition (without credit or reference), but is different enough that it can not be accepted (regardless of how the "signatures" were gathered).

For information on why Internet chain letters are never sanctioned by any responsible organization, please refer to:

Jed Hartman <logos@kith.org>