Crowdsourced political engagement: understanding Change.org and the growth in online petitions

Stream: Panel 55 - Comparative Politics: Participation and Engagement 
Date: Tuesday, 27 September 2016
Time: 4.00 pm – 5.30 pm

Abstract

Online portals for citizen campaigns are a highly significant manifestation of digital disruption and change in the political sphere. Following the international success of online campaigning organisations that mobilise mass publics, such as MoveOn, GetUp, 38 Degrees and Avaaz, new online portals have emerged that enable citizens to start their own political and community-based campaigns. Change.org is distinct in this space. It now has over 60 million active users in 196 countries, with purportedly approximately 12 successful petitions each day, and one third of all users having signed on to a winning campaign. Change.org has over 2 million Australian users, active across a broad range of political, issue-based, and local campaigns. It has quickly become the leading citizen e-petition site in Australia, particularly due to the absence of successful government-hosted petition portals similar to Downing St Petitions (UK) and We the People (USA). Importantly, Change.Org campaigns are distinctive in that they are not limited to targeting only government or prioritising a narrow definition of national political and policy impact. Indeed, many campaigns started on Change.Org may not be understood as political at all, as they focus on smaller targets and more localized issues. This tension between mass mobilisation of everyday public interests with the consolidation of online petition usage in social and political change activism needs further exploration. We used the publicly available API to capture data on approximately 6000 petition campaigns started in Australia since Change.Org launched here in 2012.

Authors

Ariadne Vromen (Presenter), University of Sydney

Philippa Collin (Presenter), Western Sydney University