Please Sign My Petition

I’m beginning to wonder if the ease with which people can share their cause du jour online doesn’t do more harm than good. In many cases, people are actually spamming your friends. Since “friends” is a relative term in the online universe (thank you, Facebook!), we all may just be annoying people we only tangentially know. We may also be inviting people to support causes they actually oppose. (If done on purpose, this is funny. If not, it’s really annoying.)

The main cause of angst in the Facebook world is Causes. Causes is a lovely application for non-profits to reach out to their donors and constituents to keep them updated on the activities of the organization. It’s also a way to fund-raise. As the president of two non-profits, I liked it. However, it’s a separate application, which can make it a pain to use. We’ve actually pretty much retired it, since we can do most of what it does from our own Facebook page, and then, we don’t have to update multiple sites.

As a casual user, I hate it. I am bombarded by requests to sign petitions and support causes, and most of the time, the requests come from people that won’t even send me a personal note. If I get a request from someone I know, someone that I interact with regularly, then I have some hope they actually sent me the request on purpose. Most of the time, Causes just helpfully sends a note to everyone in your address book if you don’t tell it not to do so. This is called a “spambot” when a program does it without the user knowing.

It gets even more dicey when you’re not really “friends” with someone – you’re a co-worker, or a distant relative (or worse, in-law), or friend of a friend, or met them at a conference. Causes doesn’t differentiate. It also assumes that if someone signs one petition, they will want to sign more.

Here’s my personal issue – I’m the President of Sparky’s Pals, which does humane education. It’s an outgrowth of the years my wife and I have spent in animal rescue. However, I am not a vegetarian. I think the “PETA – People Eating Tasty Animals” shirts are actually a bit funny. I’m still annoyed at HSUS for trying to make Michael Vick a poster child. Now, many people in rescue will think I’m a bad person. However, they’ll know why I’m not signing their petitions.

I’m also the President of a community radio station, KNON 89.3 – the Voice of the People. However, I am not a raging liberal Democrat. I didn’t vote Obama. Twice. The only useful thing Obama has done is create the petition system on the White House site, because it lets people annoy him. I do not believe he will ever take action on any of the petitions. However, I do sometimes think Texas should secede, and that petition made the limit for a White House response easily. Then, they raised the response quota. Well-played.

The difference between Causes and the White House petition swamp is that the White House owns their system. Somebody there actually reviews the ideas. For Causes, I’m not sure the targets ever find out there are people annoyed at them.

Here’s my request – the next time you sign an online petition, think “If I had to put a stamp on this, sign it, and mail it somewhere, would I still sign it?” Before you click to send it off to all your friends, think, “Does <whomever> think this way, too?” If you don’t know, uncheck the name. If you don’t know for the majority of your friends in the list, ask yourself if they should be your online friends at all.

If Facebook wanted to make life easy for people, it would force applications to use the groups people create. In my case, baseball players probably don’t care about animal rescue. Animal rescue people don’t care about gun rights, at least not the way I do. Very few people care about my thoughts on religion. I know this. I could just uncheck name after name when I’m signing a petition, or I can just not use the system. I’m thinking about just blocking the Causes application to end the madness.

For anyone still reading that wants to send me a petition, here are my rules:

  • If it’s something I don’t believe in, I don’t sign it. If you don’t know if I believe in it, why not ask me? If it seems really rude to ask me, are you really my friend? Maybe it’s best to just not send the petition.
  • If it’s not local to me (say Texas or closer), I don’t sign it. While I care deeply about the plight of the cockatoo in Namibia, I really don’t think anyone is going to help it. People are starving there – do you think they care about animals?
  • If it’s not written in clear, correct English, I don’t sign it. Take some time to edit, people! I don’t believe anyone in authority pays attention to something that is not well-written.

Feel free to use my guidelines.

I would start a petition about this, but the irony would be lost on most people.

Finally, could you like this post? My wife said if I can get one million people to like this post, I can buy a Mustang.