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Please, spare me your petitions

24th October 2016

From time to time people ask me to support their anti-junk mail petition. Much as I appreciate such efforts, I usually ignore these requests. There are too many petitions; they rarely work and they're often started by people who have little knowledge about the subject and are unwilling to put any effort in promoting their own cause.

A quick search learns that there have been twelve petitions about junk mail on petition.parliament.uk in the last couple of years (I might have missed some) and another handful that were rejected (mostly because there already was an open petition about the same junk mail issue). At the moment there are two petitions going: one about forcing distributors to respect 'No Junk Mail' signs and another about changing Royal Mail's opt-out service to an opt-in scheme.

When people contact me about their petition I usually wait a couple of weeks to see how the petition is going. Invariably, the petition is going nowhere. The twelve petitions that were accepted in recent years got 296 signatures in total. That's a meagre 25 signatures per petition, and the median is 14. If you exclude the petition that got the most signatures (a petition calling for a ban on 'To the Occupier' junk mail) the average is just under 15.

I think petitions can work but clearly these are petitions that only annoy people. They're created in less than five minutes and then presumably shared on Facebook, in the hope that they'll "go viral". Reality is that your junk mail hating Facebook "friends" are much more likely to think: "Oh for fuck sake, not another petition".

There's nothing wrong with people creating a petition in a short moment of rage. However, it would be nice if people would also put some thought in their efforts. I don't think any of the petitioners has bothered looking at previous petitions on the same issue and thought about how they're going to make sure that their petition doesn't end with an embarrassing 15 signatures. Similarly, it's telling that none of the petitioners who have asked me to advertise their petition have contacted me beforehand to say: "Hey, I'm thinking about setting up this petition. This is the blurb – what do you think?" And so we currently got a petition asking government to change how Royal Mail's opt-out scheme works, even though Royal Mail has been a private company for some time now. It's not surprising that all the junk petitions that have been created in the last couple of years were abandoned after it turned out that they didn't make it to the front page of the Daily Fascist within a few hours.

In short, I'm not interested in supporting a petition which you have already created. I'm happy to work with you – I can help with the wording of the petition, and perhaps with setting out a strategy for promoting the petition. But please, don't expect me to support your petition just because it contains the words "junk mail".

Last updated: 
24th October 2016

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