I supported 500 online campaigns for 500 days — This is what I learnt by being the ultimate slacktivist

Give a work group 5 minutes and they would cover a flip-chart with post-it-notes on the pros and cons for the question — Is slacktivism worth it?

It’s a question many in the charity sector think about, and though we all have our own opinions we don’t really have any stats that give real proof.
That’s why I took up a challenge that turned my inbox into a never-ending stream of E-newsletter updates, pleas and actions from charities, petition websites and individuals wanting to make a change — For 500 days, I supported one slacktivist campaign everyday.

Before I say the results of the 500 campaigns, we first have to consider what an online campaign win is. Is it when the online petition is handed in? When the issue has been raised with enough people? When the problem is actually addressed and changed?
This makes it difficult to give an outright answer like 300 wins to 200 losses.
And at the end all I could do is lob all the campaigns which have no clear end or answer, into one group called unknown, or in gif form this

Of course this group has the highest total — 262 online campaigns. But don’t be too disheartened some of these have achieved amazing things.

Jamie Oliver’s campaign for food education to fight obesity worldwide did not reach it goal. However, it did lead to the G20 committing to improving youth nutrition, so perhaps one year in the future it will win. And all the campaigns focused on making MP candidates make election pledges back in 2015 have had an impact on what the successful candidates have been and will be thinking about achieving over the next few years, which can only be a good thing.

All they haven’t been able to do is say that the campaign is over, finished, done for. Many just started with bad communication and continued until the end not really saying what the campaign achieved or what the next steps will be, a couple are even still going. That petition I signed for world peace for example will probably be open until doomsday comes. And the campaigns that raised money due to humanity crises like the Nepal earthquake, or the war in Syria also achieved great things, but until the war ends or the full impact of donations into Nepal are assessed can you call them wins?

It is also common for things to change a few months after a petition has been launched or closed. Government do a u-turn, bigger disasters take over the news, or further details come to light that make the original petition seem quaint.
A perfect example is how the government would work with local authorities to resettle unaccompanied refugee children. Now however.
This can dishearten petition signers, who will feel like they are always fighting a losing battle.

Some other things I learnt and thought along the way

  • Thursday was the worst day for emails. My inbox would be swamped with E-newsletters with similar subject lines, photo placements and opening paragraphs, just because all the campaigners have read the same blogs and gone to the same talks on how to write and send the perfect E-campaign newsletter.
  • In these times of people not 100% trusting charities and what they do with their money, why isn’t there a clear option for de-signing a petition?
  • Cecil the Loin really showed how people jump onto a online petition bandwagon — There were petitions for every aspect and petitions that were repeating the same thing. The same happened when the Syria crises got big. If there was a way of making sure there was one petition for one issue then wouldn’t people’s online actions be stronger?

In the end, out of 500 online campaigns 144 lost what they were fighting for, leaving 94 as winners. These included Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy becoming a fully funded treatment , protecting neighbourhood policing, and the banning of microbeads.

So if you are an avid slacktivist, which petitions should you support?

  • A petition to start aid drops to the starving people in Syria gained 65,000 signatures before closing. However the UK government were already feeding the starving people by road. Another petition aiming for transgender to self define their legal gender gained 35,000 signatures before closing, but this was something that already passed in 2004.* So if a petitions aim sounds close to your heart perhaps first of all check the latest news, or Google UK law.
  • This connects also with taking a step back and thinking, will this petition win. Those started by individuals on change.org or the Parliament petition website, sometimes don’t have the organisational capability to succeed, especially if they are aiming at the government to do a u-turn on policy, reversing the ESA disability benefit cut for example. You could even say that any campaign aimed at making the government do a U-turn is doomed to fail, unless it is creating a big stink in the papers, perfect example is scrapping the Human Rights Act.
  • On the other hand you should support petitions that mean something bigger. Banning fracking, reforming the election system or saving the NHS sound like painfully slow campaigns fighting an uphill struggle. But the continuous support of these campaigns, makes their voice grow, helps them gain an influence and quite possibly win in the end.
  • Take note of who the petition is aimed at. The PM won’t respond or even take notice of many of the campaigns aimed at her, but your local council or that organisation with something to loose just might.
  • If you do want to support an individuals own petition, make sure that they have a strong personal story. If it moves you then chances are it is already a winner.
  • After all this, If you do feel like stepping up your activism game, just sharing photos from events and actions can help turn a protest into a social movement and prolong its lifespan.

In the end as long as you use a bit of common sense and don’t sign petitions to do with stupid stuff the world should be fine and better place.

*The petitions main aim was to make it free — but the misleading title may have affected signature numbers.