NetAction Notes

Published by NetAction Issue No. 48 April 30, 1999
Repost where appropriate. See copyright information at end of message.


When Petitions Become Problems
Email Empowerment in Indonesia
It's Still Spam
About NetAction Notes

When Petitions Become Problems

We've recently seen a spate of petitions with instructions that say if the reader is the 50th, 100th, 150th person to sign, she or he should send a copy of the petition back to a designated email address. These petitions don't work for a number of reasons, and NetAction believes they should be discouraged.

One problem is verification: Are these petitions generated as an official action of a larger group? Or has someone, usually a well- wisher, started the campaign with the hope that an identified larger group would take charge of the petition once they saw how successful it was? It's not responsible to make such assumptions about other groups. Chances are you don't like it when others make assumptions about you!

Many, but not all, valid petitions can be verified on the coordinator's web site. The American Cancer Society is subject to a lot of well-meaning but inaccurate petition drives. See . Because they are a frequent target of such efforts, the ACS web site includes a page that describes their current work and identifies petitions and other campaigns which they are not sponsoring.

Even when such petitions are valid, there are several problems which occur in the administration of such petitions. Typical problems include:

And finally, invalid petitions diminish the good will of people who care about the issue the petition addresses. If and when they realize their efforts to circulate the petition are just adding to a larger problem, they won't feel great about it, and may hesitate to express their support for another cause in the future.

In the absence of experience, these petitions are models for others. However, many become a social virus or "harmless" terrorism of a sort. Petitions are usually genuine attempts to help a cause, but if the result is ignored and totally ineffective, it's not worth the electrons it started out with.

Effective use of web-based petitions is discussed on NetAction's Virtual Activist Training site.

For general tips on making effective use of technology for advocacy, see Phil Agre's excellent article, "Designing Effective Action Alerts," at:

EDITOR'S NOTE: An early draft of this article has been circulated online without NetAction's authorization. This is the final version and it reflects NetAction's views on this topic.

Email Empowerment in Indonesia

The "simple power of a humble email list" is credited with bringing hundreds of women together to confront state-sanctioned violence and violations of women's human rights in post-Soeharto Indonesia.

Moderator Nani Buntarian helped Indonesian women launch the perempuan egroups list in July of 1998 to provide a "clearing house tool" for the numerous women's organizations that emerged after the resignation of former president Soeharto. (Perempuan means "woman" in the Indonesian language.) The sudden surge in women's activism prompted a group of activist women to form the Indonesian Women's Coalition for Justice and Democracy, which held weekly planning meetings to capitalize on the momentum for change.

"We wanted our fair share of voice in the changes made for the country," Nani explained in a recent email message to NetAction webmaster Judi Clark.

"A lot of information needed to be shared. We needed a mechanism to quickly disseminate information and circulate feedback to create parity of awareness between the women in Jakarta (the capitol) and our peers elsewhere in the vast archipelago."

Nani was able to establish an email list because many of the women's organizations scattered among the islands were already online. Not everyone involved had access, but with at least one email address per province, she established "local hotspots" from which information could be forwarded to other women's organizations or groups in the area through more traditional methods of communication.

The list proved to be an effective means of generating awareness among the groups of each other's activities. This helped to foster coordinated action and commitment to common positions on such issues as human rights violations and violence.

The importance of the list was increasingly evident as women's groups were preparing for the Indonesian Women's Congress, which took place in December. Invitations to the conference were circulated to about 60 list subscribers. With only one week's notice to register, the organizers anticipated about 150-200 participants. Instead, they received more than 500 applications in just seven days.

"All this is due to the simple power of a humble email list," Nani told NetAction. "I dream of greater IT empowerment in the local women's movement that will give us greater independence in controlling our information access and distribution."

The perempuan egroups list has now grown to more than 100 subscribers.

"The added beauty of it all is that it has contributed a lot in our 'bonding' process," Nani wrote when we contacted her about sharing this story with NetAction Notes readers.

"If the Indonesian women's experience could be shared for a meaningful value, then I take this as a blessing."

Much to our delight, Nani expects NetAction's Virtual Activist website to be helpful to the women's efforts.

"We earnestly believe that NetAction will be very much part of our next action in making the dream come true," she said.

Stories such as Nani's illustrate the Internet's potential as a powerful tool for activism and organizing. But growing numbers of women are also using the Internet for more ordinary pursuits, as well.

Judi shared examples of how women use technology at a "Women and the Internet" workshop which took place during the Fourth Annual Women's Leadership conference held recently at Mills College in Oakland, CA.

In addition to political activism, women use the Internet to network with peers, conduct research, archive women's history, and support women's business ventures.

Among the thousands of women-oriented web sites, NetAction found the following to be noteworthy:

WomensNet at IGC
Online Women's Business Center
The Backyard Project
The Role Model Project for Girls

It's Still Spam

Some spam is easy to identify:

We're all annoyed when junk like this gets dumped into our in-box.

But unsolicited political email is also spam, and activists who fail to appreciate this risk alienating the very people they are trying to reach.

Over the past couple of months, for example, I've been subscribed without my consent to two separate lists on the topic of Kosovo, a calendar list for Bay Area fundraising events, a marketing list for a fundraising consultant, a sales list for Native American bead work, and a list devoted to Latino business and culture.

Without doubt, these are all lists run by well-meaning people doing important work for good causes. But they aren't lists I chose to join. Nor are they focused on the particular causes that I've chosen to support.

Putting people on lists without their consent won't bring you new supporters, and it might even make matters worse by generating negative feelings. We've written about this issue before, and readers will find lots of useful information on this topic on our Virtual Activist web site, at: But a few reminders follow for those who need it, and for subscribers who are new to NetAction Notes:

NetAction's Tips for Spam-free Online Outreach:

Post action alerts, articles and other outreach materials only to appropriate email lists and news groups. The information is appropriate if it is consistent with a topic regularly discussed on the list. If you aren't sure whether your post would be appropriate, contact the list owner or moderator first and ask.

If you're starting up a list, never subscribe readers without their permission. Prepare and distribute a message that describes the topic and purpose of the new list and invites interested people to subscribe. Again, circulate this information to appropriate lists and news groups only.

Be cautious about cross-posting messages to multiple lists. There can be a lot of overlap on lists that address similar or related issues. Some list software lets anyone who is subscribed see a list of the other subscribers. If you subscribe to lists that allow this, it may be a good idea to cross-reference lists to determine whether or not the overlap of subscribers is extensive.

Always include detailed information on how subscribers can unsubscribe, and who to contact if there are problems. Sometimes subscribers need help in switching from one address to another, or in leaving a list when they no longer have the time, or interest, to participate. Making it difficult for subscribers to get assistance will only generate ill-will.

About NetAction Notes

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