The online petition has become perhaps the most redundant form of social activism. Much like the Facebook group that can be set up for something meaningful or to talk about types of guacamole, the ease at which the online petition can be started has rendered the former effort that such an enterprise usually entailed monumental by comparison.
For the same reason that emails don't mean as much to politicians as a written letter, the online petition has become next to meaningless. It serves one purpose: education, although the same purpose could be achieved by a simple information page. The redundant act of pressing a "Join" button takes the same effort as eliminating one defunct square in a game of Minesweeper.
At least the paper petition took the time of having to listen to someone's pitch, ask one's questions and put pen to paper. There was, the sense that a commitment was in process due to the signing act that we normally attribute to contracts and marriage licenses. Traditionally our signature has been our word, our bond, our guarantee. Does any of feel the same way about clicking a "Join" button?
I'd never claim that the web hasn't been a great tool for social activism. If knowledge is power, the scope of independent media that is afforded to the average user far outranges anything that one could find in a local or national newspaper. Admittedly, the craftwork in telling the stories is mostly lacking, but the bare bones of issues and attrocities are often evident for all to see. And I certainly don't mind the Facebook Event feature that allows one to call attention to a real life rally, protest, or strike, although I'll admit the "Maybe Attending" has become my best friend in conveying the best of intentions while harboring no real commitment.
I admire those who spark interest in social issues and think the web is a great venue for fostering followers and growing a base, but if the end result is an online petition, there is a serious flaw in the effectiveness of one's political action. If over 1.7 million people made the work-intensive decision to join the uberactivist tour de force "Petition Against the New Facebook", how seriously can we really take online petitions. If a mouseclick is the end result of web activism, social justice is doomed.
But I'm really not that jaded. The social communities on the web can inspire. Those that would never have had the tools to inspire thought and critical thought now have a venue. Those that would have been doomed to a narrow view of humanity and the world, now have the ability to absorb the grand parade of lifeless packaging that is world society. Just don't let it begin and end with a click. Surely we could make it more difficult to commit to a petition than just a click. Maybe we could add audio and make people record their assent for all to hear. Perhaps we could add some calesthenics to the equation or a brain teaser or two.
I'm not sure that 1.7 million users against a new Facebook layout is any more impressive than 100 people who petition to get a new stop sign or 50 people who get a pothole filled. I do know that the work that went into getting the 100 or 50 people to commit, smacks of a greater effort and dedication than the mouseclick ever will. Here's a final thought: before you click "Join" next time, think about whether you'd put your name to paper or show up for a rally on the same cause.
Yeah, I know the above logic is all muddled. If you don't like it, go start a petition.