(10/21/2002) It's no secret that many nations are experiencing an alarming increase in crime and most people feel that something should be done about it. Unfortunately, too many people feel that signing and forwarding an e-mail petition is actually doing something about the problem.
SAMPLE CHAIN LETTER TEXT
Subject: RAPE PETITION
PLEASE add your names to the list.
5000 people got killed on Sept 11, and the world is at war. 21 000 people were murdered in SA last year, and rest of the world turns a blind eye.... An 8 month old baby girl was raped to death by 5 men in CT as they thought it would "cure their Aids". A 24 year-old pregnant woman was repeatedly raped in her home in BirchAcres, Kempton Park, South Africa one woman, her husband and their five year old daughter were relaxing at home when four unknown men entered the house. The husband (32) was tied up and held at gunpoint while the suspects raped his wife in the dining room. The suspects then ransacked the house and took electrical appliances, household goods and clothing valued at about R20 000." No arrest has been made." For once this is a worthwhile message to pass on - for my friend Jeremy Sutton who was murdered last month, leaving his 8-month pregnant wife Trish behind - and for all others who have been touched by crime...
If Gary Teichmann can sign this so can all of us.
Dear Friends: Chris Duncan here. I know a lot of you have received this before and many more like it. I also know that there is a serious problem in South Africa. I know a lot of you don't feel that there is much of a problem and refuse to be part of petitions to stop murder.
I ask you then: If you refuse to do a simple thing like placing a name to a list in an attempt to bring it to the attention of your leaders, what are you doing that the rest of us don't know about to stop it? Even if it's to clear your conscience so that in a small way you can say you did something, it is worth it. What would it take for you to suddenly spring into action? Should your child or husband need to be killed first? Please think about it and think perhaps it can help instead of "what good will it do?". Following the latest child killings in Cape Town, I hope Capetonians and South Africans in general are prepared to take a stand to stop all this crime.
PLEASE DO NOT JUST FORWARD THIS EMAIL!!!! PLEASE KEEP THIS MAIL TIDY BY CUTTING & PASTING BEFORE. SENDING ON TO YOUR MAILING LIST. THIS EMAIL MAY ALREADY BEEN FORWARDED TO YOU AND MAY COME ROUND SEVERAL MORE TIMES!!! PLEASE JUST SCROLL DOWN TO THE END AND ADD YOUR NAME TO THE LIST AND FORWARD IT............ PLEASE DO NOT DELETE IT.... For every 5000 signatures, this letter will be forwarded onto the President of South Africa, Mr.Thabo Mbeki, in an effort to re-enforce Law and Order in our Country.
PLEASE FORWARD THIS EMAIL TO EVERYONE ON YOUR MAILING LIST... WHEN YOU REACH NO. 1000, PLEASE E-MAIL TO " firstname.lastname@example.org "
END CHAIN LETTER TEXT
Once again, the power of the 'net has been overestimated. E-mail is not a good tool to organize a political movement. This particular petition, though well-intended, is guilty of violating the Seven Tests of Armchair Activism:
Expiration - FAILED - We don't know when the petition started or how long its originator will continue to collect signatures and send them to the South African President. In this case, the petition continues to circulate long after it has lost any effectiveness it might have once had.
Focus - FAILED - There is no action statement in this message. We're told our signatures will be forwarded to the president, but no statement is made. What message are we sending? What are we asking for?
Integrity - FAILED - Unlike most petitions, we're not told to send our signatures directly to the party whose actions we are trying to influence. Instead, we're instructed to send them to an unidentified third party to compile and forward them for us. Unfortunately, email@example.com is no longer an active address and messages sent to it are bounced.
Privacy - FAILED - E-mail petitions contain absolutely no privacy protections. Every time you send a message, your e-mail address and those of the people you send to are added to the message's header. In addition, we're not told what will be done with our names and e-mail addresses after we've submitted them, besides being sent to the president. BreakTheChain recommends against giving someone else your personal information via e-mail to act on your behalf.
Reliability - FAILED - There is nothing reliable about e-mail petitions. Even though the collection address is undeliverable, the petition continues to circulate. The signatures have nowhere to go, and nobody is doing anything good with them (though some opportunistic scammers and spammers are undoubtedly harvesting them for their own use.
Sponsorship - FAILED - Presumably, Chris Duncan is the petition's originator, and thus sponsor. But, who is he and how can we reach him now that the e-mail is undeliverable?
Validity - FAILED - The rising crime rate in South Africa is a reality, but there's not enough information given to validate the specific cases listed, though one case sounds similar to one for which another petition is circulating.
Most politicians pay very little attention to e-petitions and a thousand individual, original letters sent directly will have a much larger effect than a collection of thousands of e-mail "signatures," which can be easily faked. Yet e-petitions remain very popular because they are an easy way to feel like we are making a difference. In this case (and many others) easy just doesn't cut it. Break this Chain.