The power of online petitions

Ugh. I’m not getting back into the poisoned chalice that is the Ched Evans saga, but when I read this opinion piece in the Spectator, I couldn’t help but share. But this sharing (and in fact the column itself) is less about the specifics of the Ched Evans case and more about the disproportionate amount of power wielded by people “signing” online petitions.

According to Melanie McDonagh:

The online petition is simply a 21st Century version of the lynch mob

and I’m inclined to agree. It’s so easy to type your name into a box on a webpage, with no recriminations and no responsibility.

Feeling morally superior? Time to sign an online petition.

You don’t even need to be informed. Just read what your friend thinks on Facebook, click a link and your voice is added to the other 0.04% of the UK population who have done the same. Would these people be as vociferous if they actually had to do something in order to make their point? Of course not.
Traditionally, such a tiny minority would (rightfully) hold absolutely no sway on the status quo. If a political party polled 30,000 votes in a general election, it wouldn’t even come close to getting one of the 650 seats available in the UK Parliament.

And yet, an online petition with just 150,000 “signatures” was enough to make Sheffield United reconsider their options. And one fifth that number now seem to be telling Oldham Athletic what they can and can’t do and who they should and shouldn’t employ.

The fact that under his parole conditions, Evans is not allowed to seek employment overseas means that in pandering to the tiny numbers of people in these online lynch mobs, together with the effect they have on the media, the club sponsors and the “famous” fans, clubs are essentially prevented from allowing Evans from earning any kind of living. That shouldn’t be allowed to happen.

…the notion that the online mob can exercise a veto over the employment prospects of someone who has served his sentence and is entitled as a principle of justice to re-enter society – now that’s morally repulsive.

I’m not saying that just because only a few people have any given opinion, that they shouldn’t be allowed to state their case. That’s their right and they are entitled to their opinion. The problem comes when their minority point of view is immediately assumed to be the correct and rightful standpoint simply because of their loud and threatening behaviour.
The UK is nearing a tipping point regarding the reaction to online activities such as petitions and alleged “offensive” behaviour. We’re giving too much credibility to the views of online slacktivists.
In addition, the social media explosion of recent years has left the lawmakers flat-footed and now it seems that they’re coming up with unnecessarily draconian measures just to be seen to be doing something, lest the lynch mob turn on them for their perceived inactivity.

It’ll all end in tears. Not the Ched Evans thing – that’s already enough of a mess. No, the weight we are giving to tiny online petitions and their lynch mob tendencies.
We’re on a very slippery slope and it’s getting steeper by the day.

UPDATE: A tweet:


And while we’re making examples of alleged role models, what future now for WBA and England striker Saido Berahino as he is charged with drink driving?

Leave a Reply