Do Online Petitions Really Work?

Some thoughts about online petitions:

Over the past few months, many of us have seen a massive increase in the number of online petitions posted in groups and added to the timelines of our personal pages. If you’re like me you’ve taken the time to at least sign and share many if not all of these petitions — perhaps even adding your own comments.

Have you wondered, like I have, if they actually make a difference?

The answer is that it depends.

There are a lot of factors that can influence whether a petition — and most especially a petition created and shared exclusively online — can really force change.

My goal with this post is to help people understand the things that influence whether a petition is useful or not and then to get us to work together to craft and support those petitions that will actually make a difference.

So what does it take for a petition to be successful? I’m going to break down the factors that I believe differentiate a petition likely to have an impact from the many that won’t:

A) A ton of signatures. And by this I don’t mean 1500. The number required to really mean something varies depending upon the target and the ask.

B) A realistic ask and a specific target.

This is tougher than it sounds because it requires us to be realistic and make some hard choices. While almost every one of us on here would like it to be a federal offense to kill a wolf in every state of the union, short of the government deciding to return wolves to the list of endangered species that’s incredibly unlikely to happen.

So what sort of “asks” are realistic? Again, this depends upon how reasoned the request, the nature of the request and who the target is. For example, I recently crafted a petition aimed at the judge involved in sentencing the White family — these people are known to be serial / habitual poachers who have already plead guilty to poaching a wolf in Washington state (where they are still protected) and then attempting to ship the pelt to Canada. The ask in this case was for the judge to apply the maximum sentence available under current law. (

So why is this a good ask?

It’s good because it is very specific. The ask clearly explains what we want and why we want it. The target of the ask — the judge as well as the DOJ — are the correct people to target. What’s more, unlike many petitions that would require a vote or an act of congress to implement. If a judge hears from enough concerned citizens in advance of handing down a sentence, that has the potential to weigh significantly on his or her decision.

C) A compelling reason for the request.

In the above petition, the reason for the request is that it would act as a deterrent and send a strong message to other would-be poachers that this kind of crime is taken seriously and therefor the penalty for being caught is severe. This is a good reason for such a request, and in the case of this particular crime and the people that perpetrated it, it is reasonable. They have plead guilty and this is not the first time they’ve committed this type of crime.

Finally a petition like this can have an impact with a fairly small number of signatures. How small? I think a judge would take something like this seriously with 2500 signatures, especially if between 250 and 500 of them had comments.

Keep in mind that the bigger the ask the more signatures you are going to need before it will get anyone’s attention.

If we want to ban trapping in the entire US for example, we are going to need literally millions of signatures from all over the country. Foreign signatures are good, but don’t have nearly the impact of people that are likely to vote in an election for obvious reasons.

D) A consistent effort to drive awareness and get your petition broadly signed and shared.

There are some people that believe that they are making a difference by circulating a ton of online petitions, many of which they started themselves. Sometimes it seems a get a new petition a few times a week from the same people!

While I don’t want to dissuade anyone from taking action that they believe will help, I can tell you that this is not the best way to effect change. In fact at a certain point even the people that are the most likely to support your petitions will stop signing and sharing them. Why? If even the people that care most about your causes feel overwhelmed or even spammed, even if they sign it themselves, there’s almost zero chance they will be willing to forward it on t others.

Right there you are guaranteeing failure. For a petition to succeed, many of the people you share it with need to sign it and also share it with their friends. The more petitions you send, the less likely this is to happen.

In other words, your very efforts to help in every way you can are actually diminishing your effectiveness and therefor crippling your ability to help at all.

Instead of starting or sharing a new petition every couple of days, try taking one petition and making it your mission to drive it to success. This means more then just sharing it on Facebook or twitter. You need to really work at it.

Here are some tips:

– Don’t just tweet it. Use targeted tweets. @ message influencers with large followings. Ask them specifically to sign and share.
– Blog about your petition or try to get popular bloggers to do this for you. You can even try to submit guest posts to big blogs that have content related to your petition.
– Share your petition on Facebook and LinkedIn Groups that are aligned with your topic and likely to care and help
– Consider writing a press release and putting in on the wire using PR Newswire, PR Web or MarketWire.
– Reach out to the media and try to get their attention.
– Write a personal letter to the target of your petition. Let them know why you are starting a petition and to expect to hear from a lot of people that care about the topic.
– Write personal emails to your friends and family and ask them to support your cause. Explain why too.

I realize this has become a lengthy post already and I haven’t even touched on what not to do. I’ll get to that in a future post.

Before I end though, I’d like to suggest that as a group of people with a common interest we try to work together to choose the causes we support with care and then, as a group we work hard to turn those petitions into real wins. The wolves will thank us and in the end we will all feel good knowing our efforts are paying off instead of wondering, like we still are now, if online petitions really work!

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22 Responses to Do Online Petitions Really Work?

  1. Linda says:

    It was rewarding to get 37,545 sigs on the petition to end boiling, baking dogs and cats alive in China…….quite an ordeal to print out and mail off – postage alone! Not sure if it will do any good at all as we are dealing with a communist country and culture that condones some very unthinkable, over-the-top animal cruelty (not real good on the human rights either), but at least the numbers were there and the petition went to the National Tourism Dept….with the current TV ads from China encouraging tourism – thought they should know that cooking animals while they are still alive and skinning animals alive, would be a likely ‘turn off’ for the westerners they are trying to attract. If it only money that concerns them, one day it may make more sense to them to adopt more humane methods of slaughter. Daughter studying Chinese culture now told me that in some regions, sentimentality and compassion for animals are thought of as weaknesses?

  2. How do we stop these barbaric methods in China? I feel so helpless because I can’t do anything other than signing petitions….what do we do???

  3. C.Jin says:

    How do we stop them? How bout we just pay attention to our own country, worry about our numerous problems, and mind our own god damn business? You’re not doing the world any favors, and it’s really not your place to judge other cultures based on your own narrow-minded, holier than thou opinions.

  4. Caroline Smith says:

    We certainly should NOT mind our own business when it comes to animal cruelty. Even if that is their culture, it is still animal cruelty. WE cannot accept this or bad things done to humans either. This should NOT be ignored. We have to try to fight against this stuff for nothing will be done if we don’t try. We live on this one planet and our concerns should not be limited by political boundaries.

  5. Diane says:

    C. Jin, your comments convey a very out-of-date provincial attitude about responsibility to fellow beings on this planet. In case you haven’t noticed, there is a global culture these days. People have an obligation to end blatant cruelty no matter where it occurs whether in their own countries or elsewhere. Thus, why should we not all try to stop the clubbing of baby seals in Canada, the factory farms and slaughter in the U.S., poaching of rhino and elephants in Africa, barbaric treatment and eating of dogs/cats in China, torture of dogs in Iran, slaughter of dolphins in Japan, etc.? It may come as a surprise to you, but human beings are not the ultimate species on Earth and there are many other sentient, feeling, and worthy animals. Life is an intricate web and people, such as you, in their attempts to justify and rationalize cruelty are getting themselves so tangled up in it that they will eventually suffocate. Seal your own fate, buster.

  6. Paola A Conde says:

    Is any hope for these Countries like China stop torturing dogs and Cats? Is the Usa government doing something about it? I will never will go visit China not even they give me free ticket and hotel, as matter of fact, I don’t eat Chinese food not eve here in USA.

  7. melinda says:

    This exact issue is what caused me to Google whether petitions are effective. Still wondering even after reading this article if all the petitions I see on Facebook regarding the abuse of dogs and cats by the Chinese or beastiality in other countries are having an impact for change? I can hardly stand that these atrocities are true but am cynical towards petitions having an effect on these practices ingrained in certain cultures. We don’t need false limp hope but smart activism.

  8. Peter Reynolds says:

    These are internal problems that China has to deal with on it’s own. You can sign all the petitions you want. It won’t do anything. Yanks should be more concerned about what is going on in their own back yard before they start pointing the finger at others.

  9. Mark Noscoe says:

    @C.Jin How do we stop them? How bout we just pay attention to our own country, worry about our numerous problems, and mind our own god damn business? ..

    Are you by any chance Chinese or Korean? this would explain, your draconian attitude towards not just barbaric behaviour, but also, your acceptance of boiling dogs alive! old traditions are not always right, we have moved on from many cruel methods, like running over students with tanks!!! remember that one!!! In view of the fact this is an animal petition advice site, your comments are neither welcome or relevant, may I suggest, you go hate another board?

  10. Simply for evil to exist is that good men do nothing.

  11. Kathy says:

    C. Jin. People like you make me wish God (whom you can’t possibly believe in) was a just God and not a loving, forgiving God. In my human weakness, I would do to you as you and your type do unto others. I hope you see the light about your earthly activities soon. God Bless.

  12. Barbara Kramer says:

    Sticking to one cause is the right idea. When I see the horror in other country about killing dogs, I wonder if as American we have any rights to stop what they are doing in another country. I know some things are to be kill for food, but dogs are have so much feeling as a human. I only hope and pray that it can be stop with the online signatures.

  13. Maxime Jason says:

    @Linda, The best way is to get as many friends on your Fb as well as on any publick page made by you and invite as many people as possible,than share the petition. On as many social networks as possibe,from many peoples profiles!

  14. cipriana says:

    Is there any way we can change the monstrous cultures in these countries???

  15. Regina Boots says:

    Our Government has Deals with these Countries, they don’t care about what happens to animals there. I just try to not buy anything from there.

  16. sally dickens says:

    Research and statistics have proven that individuals capable of such atrocities with animals often move on to human victims. Force all (every country, including the US) governments to stop these criminals by implementing maximum prison sentence laws and strict laws that mandate these criminals to register that they are animal abusers in the area that they reside in. All (all countries) Governments are aware that animal abusers are a serious threat to our society! C.Jin when these animal abusers who have no remorse for committing heinous acts move into your neighborhood and practice their crimes against animals/humans, will you continue to say it’s non of your business! This is what will happen if we do not educate others that we need to respect our environment and animals! Also, China (asian countries) has the highest suicide rates in world, why is this C.Jin, could it be that the asian people who wish to evolve into the protection of our earth and animals are at their limit and life in China is to heinous to endure? My prayers go out to the people in these countries that struggle everyday to fight this belief that we can take life without consequences.

  17. Eran Barash says:

    Because torturing dogs and cats is far worse than torturing cows, chickens, and pigs. Those horrible Chinese people!

  18. Tim P says:

    So much selfish behavior of the human race these days that get less chances of success on petitions. My petitions don’t always have to be online. We have the objective as economic recovery. The best site for petitions is I am an activist against greed as greed is a part of the problem the economy is out of shape and people usually use braces to fix teeth. There’s greed on invisalign the painless treatment as alternative to braces to get more eating freedom and teeth looking plane.

  19. T. Patterson says:

    I have researched for a long time now on what could possibly make humans capable of such atrocities. We as humans tend to think we are more intelligent than the animals that share the planet with us. I am ashamed of the human race for causing so much harm and intentionally too. What gets me is that these so called humans that eat anything that moves in China for example (although not limited to only to China) often have the belief that the more the animal is tortured the better the meat tastes. Culture or not, they should have the intelligence to respect any living creature whose life they take and kill it in a respectable humane way. After seeing live turtles for sale with their legs cut off so they don’t walk away, cats being strangled with a rope tied around its neck, live cats getting their fur singed off with a blow torch, cats and dogs boiled or baked alive, and the list goes on…..I as a human, after seeing what I have seen, traumatized to some extent psycholigically, I am now devoting my life to animals. I have several kinds of animals with whom I have developed amazing relationships with, every one unique in its own way. I will chose an animal over a human any day for different reasons. I may not be able to save all animals, but I can love the ones I have and hope that someday the world will be a better place, but I live in the real world so doubt of this hope invades my every thought. May God bless all those creatures who have surrended their souls after a horrendous life of pain.

  20. V om says:

    There are many fake petitions being circulated. It takes some research & skill to determine the validity of a petition. Or an organization, I am not very skilled at back tracking, but I have & come to dead ends. How do I discover this in a simpler manner & warn others to not waste their time, is there someone I can report to?

  21. Terry Lingard says:

    C Jin is obviously devoid of empathy and any kind of emotional intelligence, like a large proportion of Asians who have succumbed to a culture of apathy, indifference and callousness to even other people out side of their immediate family.

    On Reuters they praised a van driver in China because he did not run back over a road victim to avoid paying damages, the news reader quoted “there is a saying in China better to kill than to maim”. In Many Asian Countries including China this Sociopathy and probably in many cases Psychopathy has been created and perpetuated by this Sadism with a total disregard for Compassion and Mercy for animals. They showed videos of Chinese people walking past people dying or injured in the road, even small children. They were at one time deliberately eating aborted babies, and sometimes they take the organs from the 1,000 plus people (we know of) condemned “criminals” put to death every year, whilst still alive. I could go on, and on, and there is Tibet etc, etc, and yes it does shows what terrible damage condoned Cruelty to Animals has done to Asian societies.

    In the UK Animal Cruelty laws were implemented by humanitarians such as William Wilberforce the abolitionist, to not only end the extreme cruelty to animals at the time, but to create a more humane and less violent society. As a result of these initial anti cruelty laws protecting animals, further ranging humanitarian laws came in to help and protect children, and has eventually resulted in the far ranging human rights laws that we know today.

    Having said all this, their are brave, empathic, and compassionate Asian people who are fighting to bring in animal welfare laws in this living hell. We need to support and help them create more compassionate humane societies for the animals and peoples sake.

  22. J R Smith says:

    Such emotionalism (and emotions are a sure way to blind people to the facts). But C Jin (who never said he/she approved of the practice) has a point. Americans are on the whole more concerned with what other people and other countries countries do than with what’s going on in the US.

    It should be obvious that even with 10,000,000 signatures on a petition the Chines wouldn’t change their ancient culture for us any more than OUR government would do something like, say, housing our homeless vets or eliminating unnecessary poverty if 10,000,000 Chinese sent US a petition. Cruelty takes many forms.
    And as long as our crooked government keeps borrowing money ($1.24 trillion as of January 2015.) from them, there no way they will tell China what to do.

    And before anyone wants to imply that I’m some heartless beast, I have the deepens respect for ALL the animals on this planet (with the 2-legged ones at the bottom of the list). And I’m a pet owner and should anyone do that to one of mine I would be happy to immediately end his life with no question asked.

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