Social change website Change.org was brought down Monday after a denial of service attack by Chinese hackers crashed its server. The fact that hackers (or was it the Chinese government?) felt the need to bring down the website must be seen as a testament to Change.org’s fast-growing success and a vindication of one particular petition: A Call for the Release of Ai Weiwei. The petition in question has “gone viral” and been signed by more than 92,000 people worldwide demanding the release of the famous Chinese artist and dissident who was recently imprisoned for his political outspokenness.
Change.org boasts about its more than 100 victories in this year alone. Far from all petitions receive this amount of attention, but petitions vary in ambition and many are dedicated to local issues that require a lot fewer signatures to be considered successful. Change.org petitions deal with a number of different causes, ranging from environmental to human rights to LBGT rights and more. Change.org provides free tools and strategic advice to private people and organizations who seek to create online grassroots campaigns for a worthy cause. Starting an online petition has never been easier.
Some of the all time most popular Change.org petitions are:
- A victorious campaign to make Apple remove an anti-gay smart phone application sold in its app store got more than 158,000 signatures.
- An ongoing petition to stop live animal auctions on eBay has gotten almost 100,000 signatures.
- A successful campaign that pressured mobile phone companies to release Japan earthquake text message donations immediately as opposed to after the usual 30 to 90 day billing cycle delay.
Change.org makes it extremely easy for people to become what some critics call “slacktivists” or “clicktivists.” Some critics question the effectiveness of online activism and say it amounts to some very shallow form of commitment to a cause because of all it takes is merely the click of a button. Even though many, if not most, Change.org petitions won’t directly affect the sought-after change, the site as a whole is gaining momentum and is now a force for social change to be reckoned with. And even if a petition (like the currently popular Girls Scout cookie campaign) fails to pressure a corporation or elected officials to change, that petition itself can be an effective tool used to spread awareness about an issue.
So… Slacktivists of the world: click away!
By Daniel Harju