What may have begun as an extension of traditional hand-written petitions and just another avenue to rack-up support for a good cause is now the easiest, cheapest and most effective method of raising awareness from around the world.
Part of my daily Facebook ritual of checking news and updates now includes responding to various calls to stand and be counted in support for global causes from popular e-petition organisations like Avaaz.org. Avaaz calls itself ‘a global web movement to bring people-powered politics to decision-making everywhere.’ With the help of the web, organisations like this are closing that gap and educating us on pressing social issues including everything from corruption and poverty to conflict and climate change and niche, regional issues we would not necessarily have heard about. When you co-sign statements and add to the numbers it may not seem like you’re doing an awful lot but e-petitions in the U.K. have proven that a collective voice can be a powerful force to be reckoned with.
But does it really work?
The U.K. government has created an e-petition site that is attracting hundreds of thousands of people, with 12 petitioners joining every minute and 6.4 million signatures collected and it’s only a year old. The site allows users to create petitions and join existing ones, giving the government some insight into popular opinions outside of elections. Any issue attracting over 100,000 signatures is put forward to be debated in the House of Commons, proving that numbers do count and real pressure can be put on leaders in this way. The site has even crashed on account of the overwhelming interest in the topics addressed. The range of topics up for petition is also so wide that there is sure to be a cause for anyone interested – everything from demanding the legalisation of marijuana and the return of smoking sections in pubs and clubs, to withholding welfare benefits from convicted London rioters. Eight petitions that reached the 100,000 mark have been debated so far with a further one scheduled for this month.
Now averaging at 46,500 visits a day and over 17 million visits in total, this internet petition model seems to be working as hoped. A spokesperson for the U.K, parliament said they hope to “build bridges between people and Parliament”, which it has contributed to in terms of creating a feeling of transparency and accountability. “The site has allowed people to raise issues that would have otherwise not been considered in Parliament and gain public support for their campaigns.” Another win for the powerful world wide web.