There has been an increased use of online petitions for individuals to champion various causes. In Singapore, where it is illegal to hold public protests, citizens would still like to have their voices heard. While there is an increased readiness to use them as a form of collective action, policymakers have to consider if online petition can be taken into account in policymaking. If they do so, how should they do it?
Traditionally, the government would not take online petitions seriously, but some Members of Parliament (MPs) point out that these are also public opinion that should not be discounted entirely. At the same time, they also noted the dangers of policies being swayed by online petitions. Public sentiments that are submitted via official channels such as public consultations, individual emails, or feedback channels such as REACH (the Government’s feedback unit) are taken into consideration when drafting policies, a Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) spokesperson said.
One other major concern is whether the online signatures are legitimate or rigged as there is still no way to verify that all signatures are real. Petition websites claim that there are levels of due diligence done to ensure that malicious activities to rig the petition are detected and prevented.
Read the full article on TODAY Online: The Big Read: Online petitions — just ‘noise’ and attention-seeking, or a way for citizens to make themselves heard?
In a democratic society, people hope to have their opinions heard and considered. People are also naturally drawn to wanting to be part of something bigger, a movement, or a cause for the things they believe in. Protests and rallies are held by activist groups around the world, rallying against behemoth institutions like governments or corporations. As it is illegal for groups to hold protests without permit from the authorities in Singapore, people are looking for alternative ways to take collective action.
While policymakers may not be able to take into account online petitions officially, the petitions are still one channel where numbers can be rallied. The attention gathered through this one channel can be a means to have a sense of where people stand, and what issues they deem important. It is optimistically a small act that may contribute to a serious change in the future.
Perhaps more can be done to ensure the validity and authenticity of online petitions. The political leaders today have multiple channels where they can reach out to the masses, and vice versa, thanks to digital technologies. Instead of relying solely on traditional official channels (which may not garner a representative view), there should be more widespread and effective means of dialogue and engagement with the population.
Questions for further personal evaluation:
- In your opinion, should people still sign online petitions? Why or why not?
- What are the other means of collective action that we may take?
- ‘dearth’: a scarcity or lack of something
- ‘solicit’: ask for or try to obtain (something) from someone
- ‘demagoguery’: political activity or practices that seek support by appealing to the desires and prejudices of ordinary people rather than by using rational argument
- ‘vilification’: abusively disparaging speech or writing