The rise of websites that produce online petitions would seem to be a boon for democracy. It reduces the time and effort of participation. Petitions are another avenue for people to have their voices directly heard by government. In recent years, I've signed petitions to stop human rights abuses abroad, to increase health care coverage, and to stop planes from Newark from flying over my house. I didn't have to deal with somebody waving a clip board in front of me at the supermarket or even talk to anybody. Win-win, right?
However, recent research questions the impact of mass produced petitions and finds that these petitions may even slow down the gears of government.
At LGM, Charli Carpenter explains how to make online petitions more effective.
Anytime you go to signal your opinion on an online petition, first
figure out if it’s going to Congress or to a federal agency. If it’s
Congress, sheer numbers count and substance is discounted – so save
yourself time and simply click yes or no. But if it’s a federal agency
– EPA, DoJ, DoT, FCC – be sure to alter the letter as much as possible, and write an informed, substantive comment. For example, if you support prison reform,
write about what prison reform rules should look like and why, or ways
in which DoJ can actually improve on the NPREC recommendations, and
encourage others to do the same.
Sure, use the above websites to formulate your opinion. Use their online form to submit it. But delete the form letter and put it in your own words.
(And not just any words. No emotional rants. No insults in all caps. No
accusations of immoral behavior. No threats. It’s not that public
officials care about these things; it’s that they couldn’t care less
and letters like that just make it harder for them to find the useful,
substantive comments that they need to make the best rules.)
Related: Online Petitions