change.org

Recently, an Arlington resident started an online “petition” on change.org that is directed to the members of the Arlington School Committee.

I am asking that folks who have a cause that might be placed before a local governing body (selectmen, school committee, redevelopment board, et al.) refrain from using this (or a similar) device.

Since the start of this weekend, I have gotten more email from change.org than from any other source of perpetual spam, including green coffee beans, credit reports, loans, Viagra, and Magic Jack. The mechanism behind this website is that it generates a significant number of email directed at the target(s) selected by the initial petitioner. This might be a winning practice if you are trying to get Hasbro to picture boys on the box of the Easy-Bake oven, trying to get Walmart to address the working conditions in its factories, or trying to get Malala Yousufzai a Nobel Peace Prize nomination (all causes on the change.org front page). It may be a winning practice if the goal is to generate sheer volume of email. It certainly is a winning practice if a for-profit corporation wants to harvest contact information for people who identify with a cause. It’s not an effective method for persuading local elected officials in a New England town.

I have found that folks who are elected to local office are thoughtful, responsive folks. If you communicate with any of our elected officials, you are very likely to get a thoughtful response. If you communicate through change.org, that’s impossible. While change.org generates a boatload of emails when you sign their online petition, and sends an email with your name on it when you enter a comment, the email all comes from mail@change.org. There is no way for me, or any other local official, to respond to your request.

Yes, your contact information is being collected by change.org, but it isn’t being passed on to the folks who are the targets of the campaign. Your name is used, your name comes through in the email header, but your contact information is used for a purpose other than fostering communication with the target of the campaign.

Please note that change.org is a for profit corporation, and their own website states that, “Like most companies, Change.org has a business model that allows us to grow rapidly and be financially self-sustaining, providing tens of millions of people with a free empowerment platform for change.” In other words, they are selling the information of petitioners as part of a for-profit business model.

The school committee website lists our personal email addresses.
http://www.arlington.k12.ma.us/asc/#members

The selectmen’s website has links to their personal email addresses.
http://www.town.arlington.ma.us/Public_Documents/ArlingtonMA_Selectmen/index

If you have a local cause, if you want to persuade your local officials to take action, please address us directly and personally. Your message will be read, and you will get a thoughtful response. Please do not use change.org to generate high-volume automated email to your local officials.

Published by Paul Schlichtman

Paul Schlichtman is a member of the Arlington School Committee and a Town Meeting Member from Precinct 9. He is a Past President of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees. He is a public school administrator who is interested in public governance on the local level.

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