Slacktivist Café

Quick coffee, fast food, and even faster eco-politico-emotico ‘slacktivism’ — it’s all here at the Slacktivist Café.

Ink and acrylic on paper, September 2017. Illustration for “And Tomorrow The World”, a Sunday Times Insight article about online petitions, by Sue de Groot.

Here are some excerpts:

If you want proof of why humans will never be able to agree, all you have to do is visit one of the multiple e-petition sites. The things people want to change about the world are staggering in their randomness. For every person calling for cheese, there will be another calling for chalk.

On the cheese side, according to petitions registered on the giant online activism site Change.org, people of widely varied political beliefs are bound together by their mutual hatred of pineapple on pizza. Dozens of petitions call for this culinary perversion to be declared a crime.

On the chalk side, another petition demands that the president of Iceland be impeached because of his “arrogant desire to ban pineapple as a pizza topping”. So far the Icelandic government has not responded. We don’t know whether so it is unclear whether the premier’s dislike of Hawaiian pizza is based on taste or the need to reduce Iceland’s tropical-fruit imports.

Browsing through online petitions can provide hours of entertainment. It’s like shining a light in the absurd recesses of human preoccupations. There is a petition for Prince Harry to be made British prime minister; one to allow citizens of Pennsylvania to keep hedgehogs; one begging Massey high school in New Zealand to introduce a summer uniform so the pupils don’t sweat so much; one seeking to change the official plural of vinyl records to just “vinyls”; and one that demands the removal of the “vinyls” petition because it violates the rules of grammar.

Wherever there is a platform for free speech there will be a harebrained fringe, but the primary purpose of e-petition sites is to help otherwise voiceless people make a noise about real issues.

There has been much criticism of online petitions as “slacktivism”, i.e. nothing more than digital sound and fury without any power to bring about actual change; a salve to the individual’s conscience not backed up by any concrete action, but that has not stopped people creating and signing them […]

Will adding your digital tick to an online petition bring about any actual change? If you base this on results achieved by the bushel of petitions to remove Jacob Zuma as president of South Africa, it would seem to be no, but things are more complicated. […]

In 2013, White House science and technology adviser Paul Shawcross responded to a petition calling on the US government to build a Death Star, the sci-fi spaceship able to obliterate entire planets in the Star Wars movies. His reasons for refusal included: “The Administration does not support blowing up planets” and “Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?” […]

At a micro level petitions may have more impact. The site Care2 petitions has achieved modest success in the animal rights arena with petitions leading to the cancellation of three sheep races and a pig race   […]

One of the most powerful properties of the Internet is that it allows like-minded people to find each other and commune. This can be used for destructive purposes, but when it comes to e-petitions the vast majority of causes seem to be moral and humane. Unless you like pineapple on your pizza, that is.