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Human rights petition madness turns Internet into land of junk mail


E-mail petitions – like the ones decrying the murder of Matthew Shepard and calling for hate crimes legislation in the state of Wyoming – are useless junk mail and are clogging up the Internet, say a growing number of critics.

“Virtual signatures are virtually useless at best – and at worst

lull people into believing that no real action is needed,” says a plea from one person trying to stop an e-petition which has turned into a nightmare.

To carry any real weight, a petition must have an actual signature, according to people at Brandeis University, where a student’s e-mail address was shut down when her petition got out of control. A call for an end to the mistreatment of women by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan resulted in up to 2,000 e-mails a day to her account.

“Netiquette” discussion papers published by the unofficial group which “controls” the ‘net, the Internet Engineering Task Force, say that “spam” junk e-mail like petitions are clogging the already cluttered Internet.

Matthew Dillon is the owner of a website dedicated to Matthew Shepard – and the author of a petition to the prosecutors in the

case. He insists his effort is worthy.

“My petition, for instance, calls for ‘prosecution to the fullest possible extent’ of Matthew Shepard’s murderers, and they [the accused] indeed are facing the death penalty now. Whether or not my petitions swayed that, no one can say. The prosecutors where aware of the site and that there are signatures on it. My petition was really just another voice in the national cry.”

With changes in technologies, widely dispersed voices can make

themselves heard with greater ease.

“Online petitions in general are gaining popularity because they can

reach far more people with a minimum amount of work. No longer do you need small armies of people to go door to door, explaining the issue and trying to get signatures. Online petitions, with a small amount of programming, can be automatic,” says Dillon.

“I started the online petition calling for justice for Matthew Shepard’s Murder on Oct 12. The pain and anger I felt about what happened (and the negative public reactions) compelled me to do something to try and help. Since I run web servers for a living, I thought that this would be the best thing I could personally do.”

Whether they affect real change is another matter. It seems that actually writing your own letter directly may be more meaningful in the long run.

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