In a shocking move the petition oriented site, Change.org, will open up its platform anyone, this includes the Republican party, corporations, possible front groups, and other anti-progressive causes. According to leaked internal documents the only parties not allowed access will be hate groups as defined by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Ryan Grim at the Huffington Post broke the story first.
A September email to the entire staff from Change.org’s CEO Ben Rattray outlines the new direction for the company.
Our mission: to empower people everywhere to create the change they want to see.
Our vision: a world in which no one is powerless and creating change is part of everyday life.
Another email written in the middle of July reveals some of the talks Rattray had with many high level staff members. The discussion came just weeks after the company came under pressure for hosting misleading petitions from StudentsFirst and Stand for Children. Change.org dropped the two organizations (once their contracts came to an end) but it seems Rattray was already making plans to open up his website to other nefarious groups.
Additionally, a FAQ was sent out to employees revealing the massive sell-out of the so-called progressive petition site.
What about anti-abortion, pro-gun, and union-busting advertisers?
We will be open to advertisements from any group other than hate groups.
We are establishing an open, non-partisan advertising policy that supports a ubiquitous, global brand, one that is relevant in many countries and across many cultures. We are open to organizations that represent all points of view, including those with which we personally (and strongly) disagree.
But while these organizations might advertise on our site, we should not assume that every “worst case scenario” will come to pass. Advertisers won’t want to advertise on Change.org if we’re not delivering the audience they’re looking for.
Compare this to their client policy (which will soon be altered to reflect the new direction):
We accept sponsored campaigns from organizations fighting for the public good and the common values we hold dear – fairness, equality, and justice. We do not accept sponsored campaigns from organizations that consistently violate these values, support discriminatory policies, or seek private corporate benefit that undermines the common good.
The new direction of the for-profit company is a loss for the progressive movement. It allows the very powers that be in which the movement fights against access to tools that we’ve used for our advantage. Now, Rattray decision opens up the online social change company to manipulation by “activists” that do the bidding of powerful interests. Look back to this summer when Stand for Children deceived site users to sign a petition against the Chicago Teachers Union.
The new platform will make it easier for front groups, like Stand for Children, and corporations to mislead users. These types of groups do not qualify as hate groups but they do hate the collective action that harms their interests.
Imagine a corporate front group advertising on the site for cleaner energy and jobs. Sounds perfect. Too perfect really. Like a Frank Luntz focus group tested message. You see it would be a petition demanding less regulation and open access for fracking.
A petition like this is a violation of the client policy of old. Fracking poses serious risks to drinking water, possibly causes earthquakes, and does not serve the common good in the long-term. Sadly, under the proposed changes a petition like this could find an audience, misled or otherwise.
As I have previously mentioned, Change.org’s for-profit operations generates $15 million in annual revenue and rising. The global expansion of the site should increase revenue for the company while also opening up a powerful tool for the masses. At the same time it can be used against those masses.
In the July email Rattray writes:
As we discussed this over the weekend, the path that has the chance of maximizing our positive impact, and therefore our goal, became clear. Our goal isn’t to become the world’s largest progressive advocacy organization. Instead, it’s to become a ubiquitous global platform that becomes a fundamental part of the infrastructure of civil society around the world, radically democratizing access to power for hundreds of millions of people. And if that’s our aspiration, we have to start backing up that language with our actions.
Rattray’s either fears progressive advocacy or realizes an open platform means more money here in the United States. Opening access to global change will have a real impact on democratizing more underdeveloped nations. It can potentially give a real voice to people and organizations that are typically oppressed by their government, whether the group holds anti-gay, anti-woman, etc views. The Southern Poverty Law Center probably will not be sufficient to define these organizations in other countries. That is a real positive impact but it comes at a real price for progressive advocacy in the U.S.
More as this develops.
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