How we use the Internet to save the Internet

Our Executive Director, Steve, popped online during his vacation to suggest we put together a blog entry about how’s online petitions have been effective. He noted that a lot of the newer members of the pro-Internet community might not know about the amazing progress we made with our groundbreaking campaign or the influence we had with the campaign. It’s easy to underestimate just how effective online petitions can be, when backed up by an incredible, motivated community.

The pro-Internet movement has made change that is nothing short of incredible—levelling the playing field between citizens, lobbyists, politicians, and policymakers—in the fight for the possibilities of the open Internet. I’ll show you how. And I’ll do it with a whiteboard and my cell phone’s camera (with some slight computerized touch-ups):

Online Petitions: Theory of Change

That’s right, I’m also an artist. Sort of.

This very complicated drawing represents my high-level understanding of OpenMedia’s theory of change. I’ll break it down:

1. The process starts when you add your name to an online petition. Clearly you know enough about the issue to care, and to have decided to take this *seemingly* small stand.

2. You’re generally not alone. We’ll have done our best to tell others in the pro-Internet community about an issue that would affect their communications freedom, and motivate them to act. When you sign, you join that community.

3. This step is crucial. If you spread the word by sharing the petition with your networks and people in your community, you’re helping to reach people who may otherwise be left in the dark. You’re also getting someone else to start the process being described here—which is huge.

4. If a lot of petition signers take the previous step and engage people in their networks, the results can really add up.

5. When a campaign begins to hit milestones (the numbers, of course, differ depending on the nature of the campaign) and social media is atwitter with shares, the media starts to pay attention. This reaches even more people who may not have known about the issue at hand, and lets them join the pro-Internet community too.

6. It’s not just everyday citizens who hear about the petition, especially once the media latches on and the message is spread. Politicians and policymakers, many of whom are very interested in public opinion, will get the message too.

7. If those key decision-makers are smart, and care about their constituents, they’ll take the issue and put it on the table where decisions are made. Sometimes it take a little more—letters to the editor or riding-specific messages, for example—to get to this step, but the more people make their voices heard, the more likely this result will become.

In this example, an MP starts a discussion about the campaign’s message in Parliament.

8. With enough public pressure—which is built up even more as the media picks up stories of potential changes to policy or law—the conversation turns to action, and structural change is made.

9. And that, dear readers, is what we at OpenMedia like to call a win.

Macleans writer Jesse Browne boils all of this down quite well in his piece, Slacktivism defeats Lawful Access, which describes the fall of Canada’s online spying bill C-30:

Think about it: 70,000 Canadians signed an online petition against Lawful Access, and we don’t yet have Lawful Access. Around 100,000 Canadians joined a Facebook group against a backwards Copyright reform bill, and we don’t yet have backwards Copyright reform. Almost half a million Canadians signed a petition against wholesale usage-based billing, and we don’t have that either.

The ethereal nature of these protests may be the key to their success. Their message to legislators is simple: thousands of Canadians are against what you’re doing. Right now they are angry in their homes, at their computers. Proceed and they may be angry at your door, or at the polls.

Considering its effectiveness, maybe it’s time to think of a more respectful term for online political engagement than “Slacktivism”.

One of our Facebook community members picked up on this question of slacktivism after Browne’s article came out, saying a better term would be “interactivism”. This was immediately picked up and used by another community member.

This interactivism—what we call “using the Internet to save the Internet”—is key in pushing for decision-making processes that are open, and policies and laws that are citizen-centric.

Using this model, we’ve won many times before. OpenMedia is a small Canadian group punching above its weight, but we win a lot because of this well-channeled citizen engagement. We can’t help but believe in the Internet’s power to democratize decision-making, and to bring people together.

As the open Internet faces new and greater challenges, this will be how we move forward. We hope you’ll join us.