Monday, November 2, 2015

The Petitions of Personal Destruction

These are just a sample of petitions that are available at Change.org, a website that has been in operation since 2007. What Change.org says about itself:
On Change.org, people everywhere are starting campaigns, mobilizing supporters, and working with decision makers to drive solutions.
Anyone can start a petition, apparently about pretty anything or anyone else. As of right now, Change.org claims some 14,903 "victories" in some 193 countries. By victories, they mean petitions whose goal was apparently achieved, with the assumption being that the petition at Change.org was causal in this regard. Of course, the last is hardly a given, but I'll leave that alone. What I'm interested in here, what I'm fascinated by, is the use of this website to target private individuals, to seek support for punishing them in way or another for offensive actions or transgressions of one form or another.

In the examples above, I've included some well know people in the media, a sports star, and a few people that I'd wager almost no one reading this has ever heard of. And again, my list is just a small sample. There are so, so many more of these kinds of petitions. And I think they are all downright disgraceful, are rooted in a judgmental and nasty attitude that infects the world of social media, that searches for offense, then seeks "justice" via mob rules or dogpiling with little or no thought to long-term repercussions.

I'm not defending any of the specific people above for whatever it was that they did to elicit these kinds of petitions. Maybe what they did was truly awful. Maybe it would be fair if they were fired, banned, or what have you. But seeking such a result with a public petition on the internet? It's so low rent, it just boggles my mind. And interestingly enough, there are all kinds of petitions on Change.org that call for Facebook or some other entity to remove this page or that page because such is offensive or is in bad taste. But who is policing Change.org for the same sorts of things? Because I'd like to see Change.org remove all petitions that target the careers of private individuals.

The internet phenomenon of public shaming has been getting added attention of late, as in this piece at CNN, but there's little evidence it is going away any time soon. Especially given the existence of websites like Change.org that openly invite public shaming and pillorying and the lightning fast response of the Twitter world to any perceived slight by pretty much anyone about pretty much anything.

There is of course, some good taking place here with the bad. Change.org, for instance, is a good tool for serious complaints about policy and global issues. And the dogs of Twitter do sometimes catch people in positions of power acting like jackasses or being hypocrites. But it seems to me that the bad is severely outweighing the good.

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