What’s the deal with online petitions?

Petitions are weird. On the one hand, they’re part of a healthy democracy – the people making their voice heard when other channels have failed them. They definitely have their place.

But they’re also pretty bonkers a lot of the time.

For a long time I’ve been suspicious of the efficacy of online petitions. Sites like change.org seem to be churning out hundreds of petitions daily, and you’ve got to wonder… what’s the point? How often do petitions actually change anything?

Are petitions a symptom of so-called slacktivism? Where people thing they’re making a difference, but in the most low-effort/low-impact way possible? And, even worse, is there a danger of online petitions snowballing into quasi-witch hunts? (I’m thinking of those petitions you get that demand companies fire employees who’ve done something Twitter has decided is bad).

But rather than attempt a serious discourse on whether or not petitions are bad (my position in one sentence: mostly harmless and sometimes good), I thought I’d rather do the MUCH FUNNIER THING of just digging up some funny ones. Stuff like these –

And yeah, I’ve personally signed all of those.

Change.org has a great section where you can browse by most recent. And that’s just great for finding bananas ideas. Here’s some I’ve dug up in the past –

But these aren’t real petitions. They’re directed at nobody in particular, or at least, no democratic entities. Let’s have a look at what people are actually petitioning their government for.

Sadly, the UK Parliament Petitions website is no longer accepting submissions because the recently general election screwed things up for everyone. But there’s still some gold to be mined from their archives.

There’s a lot of this kinda stuff –

But thankfully for every one of those, there’s one of these –

907 people signed that one. 907! The Government was not obliged to respond and so it has closed.

There’s something absolutely mad about letting people have their say about things. I know that’s literally an argument about democracy, but just look at this…

Like what. There’s a good argument to be made about making the HoL more accountable (though I think a fully-elected Upper Chamber would be a disaster, cf. my Year 13 Politics Coursework). But I don’t think any constitutional expert has ever, ever, ever considered the possibility of a ‘House of Heroes.’

The petition itself goes on to explain what this would mean. “The new House of Heroes will consist of 100 members, who will be known as ‘My Honourable Hero’. Of these 100, 33 will be “Everyday heroes”, 33 from the Armed Forces and Emergency Services, and 33 Heroic National Treasures, plus 1 speaker to moderate

So, instead of a body filled with specialist industry experts free to scrutinise upcoming legislation without the pressures of fixed-term service, the proposal is to let this job be done by ‘Everyday Heroes.’ I can’t quite determine what this would involve, but presumably it’s something like nurses, soldiers, firemen. The ‘are lads and ladies‘ that ‘should be paid footballers wages‘ you often read about.

I dunno if it’s a good idea to be honest. But hey, democracy is all about debating ideas. 100 people thought this was a good idea. But it too got closed.

This one was almost certainly a joke. But I like that someone in government still had to look at it, read it, reject it, and write a response. What a good use of everyone’s time.

What a disgrace.

I like ones like this, where it’s not that the idea is deliberately stupid, but rather betrays an absolute misunderstanding of the system. It’s not ‘get enough votes and this will definitely happen.’ It still has to be debated by Parliament and all that stuff.

But just imagine. Theresa May logs onto her Government Petitions account to check out the day’s business. The ‘Deport Theresa May’ petitions has reached x number of votes. “Well,” she says, “I guess that’s that then” and proceeds to start packing her bags.

I think that’s enough for you to get the idea. Yes, petitions can be a good way of making your voice heard on a particular issue that falls outside the general scope of an election (or even a referendum). But in opening up the door for everyone to have their say on every topic, you invite chaos. Not everyone understands how governments work, and how policies are implemented. The system won’t work if it has to bow to the whim of every individual.

And I really, really don’t want us to bring back the death penalty after Brexit.

Disagree with me:

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