I’ve written about e-petitions before. To summarize, I believe they are valuable tools in the digital public affairs toolbox. Among other things, they definitely help raise awareness of an issue and give people a very low barrier to entry to (in theory) support the cause. However, I continue to observe cases in which their implementations make it easy to challenge their credibility.

Chief among my concerns has been e-petition signatures that are often not qualified based on jurisdiction. That is, a signature from Spain protesting a commercial development in Toronto is generally irrelevant, yet petition creators will include it in the overall counts because every extra-jurisdictional signature helps make for an impressive overall signature count.

I came upon something new last month that makes me wonder if the public is experiencing fatigue about online causes or e-petitions as a whole.

Apparently struggling to gain traction and attract signatures, or perhaps hoping to secure one million signatures by August 1, Greenpeace has been promoting an online petition to get LEGO® to break its relationship with Shell as a contest in which each signature is an entry to win a prize.

In June, Greenpeace UK ran a giveaway of two pairs of tickets to the Glastonbury Festival. Another “competition” featured a Vivienne Westwood t-shirt.

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Last Friday, Greenpeace Canada closed entries for its “LEGO Contest” and will announce the awarding of a $300 Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) gift certificate later this week.

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The giveaways were promoted using sponsored Facebook posts, an obvious and smart effort to attract contest entries (or e-petition signatures) from people who may be interested in the issue even if they aren’t necessarily traditional supporters of Greenpeace.

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All of this calls into question the integrity of the signatures collected to date (773,703 as of 2:10pmET, August 5). How many are people legitimately declaring their support for the cause? How many are lottery players hoping to win a $300 MEC shopping spree?

I believe e-petitions and other online tools can be productive tools of change (see #TellVicEverything, KONY2012, Hélène Campbell, etc…). However, I also believe playing with the ethics of causes will only give people easy fodder to dismiss their credibility.

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