Are online petitions worth the webpage they appear on?
Much as we loathe focusing on the same subject over and over again for our blog, the ongoing debate concerning Vine and ITV’s king of misogyny, Dapper Laughs, continues to raise questions we have long been asking. As such forgive us our trespasses, but we’re about to post another one.
The star of Dapper Laughs, a TV series wherein the eponymous ‘lad’ accosts women with sleazy ‘banter’ and sexist ‘jokes’ in a bid to get a rise out of them and make people with questionable senses of humour laugh made headlines following a Twitter spat between him, his hordes of fans, and a journalist who called into question the content of a track on his Christmas album. If you missed it, take a look here.
The resulting liberal furore led to an online petition, the likes of which you’re likely to be rather familiar with. Overall, the idea was simple, get this sexually explicit character off mainstream television and stop perpetuating the myth that harassment can be used for entertainment purposes. Change.org was responsible for running the campaign, and on Monday night bosses at ITV confirmed they were indeed cancelling the programme.
A classic case of mass action leading to a reaction, we have often pondered on the validity of such petitions. Every day we’re hit with a number of causes to sign up to, and getting involved takes very little time at all (fill in a couple of boxes with contact details and click the ‘Sign This Petition’ button to be added to the list of ‘activists’).
All of which sounds very well and good, but how much difference do the majority of these endeavours really make in the grand scheme of things?
A few years ago, when Online Activism (or, as the cynics refer to it, Slacktivism) first began to grow exponentially, a number of articles appeared looking at the overall situation. This piece on Article 3 is particularly interesting, in which Change.org’s criteria for a successful petition is cited:
1. The Ask is compelling and achievable;
2. The petition is delivered directly to the target;
3. Social media tools are used to get the word out and recruit supporters; and
4. The online petition is followed up by offline action. While this steps seem simple enough, each of these steps can be difficult to achieve.
The problem being, many critics suggest there’s a certain level of complacency involved in online petitions. They are, after all, ridiculously easy to be part of, and it’s unclear if the majority of signatories also then take action offline, where it arguably counts for more.
We’re not sure. At all. Clearly giving your John Hancock is better than doing nothing at all, but how many instances you have seen where a petition has not just achieved the number of signatures it set out to do, but also resulted in significant real-world change? Furthermore, does genuine concern need to include involvement outside the digital realm for it to really matter?