up in arms

A friend recently asked me my opinion on petitions for legislative action. You know, those pesky emails and junk mail that say “Action needed now!” or “[Insert terrible event here] will happen if you don’t do this!” Or just the plea for help to solve something by simply signing a petition for some legislation.

Let me ask you the question:

Do you think these types of petitions are effective? Or are they a big waste of time and energy?

Use the comment box below to post your opinion!

Generally, I don’t think they work. It is hard for them to work, especially when these efforts would be going up against lobbyists who have tons of money. A lot of the time the money wins out.

It isn’t always ineffective though. I think these things are helpful to let politicians know what issues the public is concerned with. But it doesn’t necessarily pressure them to take action as much as lobbying does.

I worked for a month or so with NYPIRG, and what they did was they collected money from people as “memberships” for the organization and whatever campaign they were working on. (They recently were working on the Bigger Better Bottle Bill, which I posted about yesterday. They finally “won” this campaign after many years of advocacy.)

Also there is the issue of validity, as in, are these signatures actual people or are they made up? It is hard to prove that, besides leaving an email address or mailing address, which could be made up anyway. (Remember the voter registration controversies?) So I think people may question the truthfulness of the counts.

I think these types of things have some value in generating awareness and exposure, but they are not the most effective in terms of producing results. It might be better to directly contact your Representatives or Congresspeople and let them know what you think are important issues. A personal letter is definitely more sincere than a signature, but we all know how lazy people can be!

Foo Fighters – Up in Arms


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3 thoughts on “up in arms

  1. Unique IP addresses could be used to “sign” the petitions. This would make it so the system isn’t nearly as easy to manipulate; IP spoofing or at least IP hopping within a certain subnet would be required to circumvent a system like this, and that’s beyond the knowledge of most users.

    But any sort of online voting or petitioning system is hackable, especially if the proper precautions aren’t taken. For a stunning example of a recent online voting system hack, see this image, the recent results of the TIME 100 poll:


    The founder of 4chan, “moot,” is at the top, already a red flag in terms of vote spamming. But then you notice that the first letters of each successive person in the poll spell out a name, and you realize that the poll was manipulated to a whole different level. More info about how it was done here:


    Of course, not every online poll or petition is manipulated in this way, but they seem way too vulnerable to be taken that seriously by politicians. I know if I were a politician I would take the number of signatures in a petition with a grain of salt, but the very fact that such a petition was organized might still bring my attention to the issue and hand.

  2. Thanks for the link to the article! I had not seen that, but it is an interesting read. The whole world of hacking in general intrigues me. They are an interesting group of people and I think it would be interesting to study their psychology.

    ps. the movie “hackers” was filmed in my high school.

  3. I think that those types of emails are particularly annoying and ineffective because we just get so many of them, and they all sound the same. I wish they would write the subjects and first sentences with less buzzwords, and more clues about the actual topics.

    It’s hard to tell whether something really requires your attention or is just another plea for the same thing you read last week. General woes that won’t be solved no matter what you do, or asking support for causes you care nothing about.

    Anyway, I don’t like those emails, and I wish organizations would send less of them!

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