The Case of the Pointless Petition

I received an e-mail petition today. I’ve never been inclined to sign one before, recognizing that a name on a list means absolutely nothing without proper identification. I could sign it with whatever name I want and pass it on. I could be an eight-year old with no legal right to sign it. I could add the names of my entire family and pass it on. There’s no way to know if it’s valid or not.

Upon receiving the petition, I decided to look up the validity of e-mail documents to confirm my suspicions one way or another. In doing so, I came across this very interesting article:

The Case of the Pointless Petition – Tale of an Internet misadventure

It’s actually quite an interesting read, telling the story of two well-meaning university students way back in 1995…and the disastrous aftermath of their efforts. Because long after the issue they were so concerned about had passed, much-modified versions of their original petition were still making their way through the Internet.

That’s right: e-mail petitions may start off with the best of intentions, but are–in actual fact–little more than chain e-mails.

And I get enough extraneous e-mail as it is.

I’m all for signing petitions–I signed one the other day. But we all need to recognize that without proper and verifiable identification, a name is meaningless. There are online petitions that ask for such information, and those are valid. And when you’re asked to sign a petition in person, they want your name, signature, and address.

It’s one of those funny things. Read the article, and you’ll come away thinking, “wow, that’s so obvious.” It really is. But I don’t blame anyone for not realizing it. You get the e-mail petition, you read it, you add your name, and you forward it off to others. That doesn’t really require much in the way of rational thinking. In fact, it relies on an emotional response, because most of these e-mails are phrased such that you’ll feel guilty for not contributing.

Scratch that; I do blame the people who forward it without thinking about what it really means. I don’t believe in the cliche that goes, “if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem”. The world is not so black and white. But if we want to cut out stuff like this, then we have to put some thought into whether it makes sense or not.