Are Facebook Groups the New (and Improved) Online Petitions?

from the point-and-click-political-activism dept

There was a time when online petitions were pretty common, but they never were that effective at actually lobbying government, mainly because there’s no easy way to validate signatures. The concept was ported straight from the analog world to the digital, but it’s interesting to see how government lobbying has evolved online. The Ontario government recently backed down from proposed restrictions on young drivers in the face of a significant backlash, which included a Facebook group that gathered over 150,000 members. The Premier, Dalton McGuinty, mused about conducting consultations through Facebook and, though that never materialized, the group was cited as one of the major indications that the government had “stepped in it.” Earlier this year, another Facebook group, Fair Copyright for Canada, had caught the attention of the national parliament in Canada.

What is it that Facebook groups have that online petitions don’t? First of all, 150,000 members in a Facebook group is not the equivalent of 150,000 signatures on a (real) petition. A portion of this group’s members are probably not even from Ontario (though at least Facebook provides some assurance that most members are real individual people). But, in the same way that 150,000 signatures isn’t the same as 150,000 people at a rally outside the legislature, you take the context into account. It’s a pretty significant number for getting a sense of a public reaction — the government definitely hit a nerve here. A Facebook group also contains associated debate and discussion, links to other efforts (websites, YouTube videos, etc.) and a means for members to coordinate further efforts online and offline. It’s more about organizing protest efforts than simply presenting a list of names.

Obviously, there are other relevant services besides Facebook (and there are lots of silly Facebook groups), but the Facebook example serves as an interesting illustration of how this sort of political activism has evolved from the digital attempt at petitions to a more involved hub of activity. In Canada, we see examples of politicians now beginning to pay attention, but to get involved — like McGuinty suggested through consultations and like the Obama team has demonstrated through a campaign — would take things to another level.

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Comments on “Are Facebook Groups the New (and Improved) Online Petitions?”

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5 Comments
Eo Nomine (profile) says:

RE: Facebook "Petitions"

“What is it that Facebook groups have that online petitions don’t? First of all, 150,000 members in a Facebook group is not the equivalent of 150,000 signatures on a (real) petition. A portion of this group’s members are probably not even from Ontario (though at least Facebook provides some assurance that most members are real individual people).”

Another other problem with Facebook “petitions” is that one must join the Facebook group in order to participate in discussion…so, even if one is actually opposed to the “petition”, if you want to debate the issue you’ll be counted as in favour of it.

RIGHTSAIDFERNT (user link) says:

Brock Lesnar

Brock Lesnar’s popularity grows daily. At SummerSlam, Aug. 25, (in my hometown of Long Island, although I wasn’t there live) the crowd undeniably pushed Lesnar, going so far as to break out the “Rocky Sucks” chants. While the WWE has been in dire need of new blood in the Undisputed Championship slot, I can think of better people who better fit the bill that the Next Big Ego-trip. And I don’t profess to assume that Lesnar is full of himself for winning the ultimate prize in pro-wrestling at the soft age of 25, I do think that he’s being put over more deserving wrestlers.

anthony bain (user link) says:

facebook groups

Groups….is that what they are called, i think a more apt name for them would be sheep pens…I started a group asking all users to send to my paypal account $10, i made friends with about 100 people at the time, the group grew to about 400 and i was sent over $100. I didnt say what the money was for just please send me some and people did, even more strange is that 70% of the money came from people who joined the group without being invited. if you can make a political decision on a flock of people like this then God help us.

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