Don't petition the White House, Use Change.org

Don’t petition the White House, Use Change.org

Nov 18, 2012 Aaron Krager No Comments
Secessionists. I first want to say thank you for finally learning something from history. The last time so many desired to rid themselves of a tyrannical president they declared war on the Union. Thus, your use of a peaceful means through petitions on the White House’s site is commendable. Furthermore, each state now finds themselves represented by a petition and signatures from people possibly...
The Country Moved to the Left Last Night

The Country Moved to the Left Last Night

The whole campaign season did not just depend upon the presidential race that finally came to an end last night. Yes, the country voted clearly to give Barack Obama another four years in the White House. He received more than 50 percent of the vote and won handily in the electoral college. Yet, it is what happened down the ballot that shows the nation’s...
Republicans, Rape, Life, and Control of Women

Republicans, Rape, Life, and Control of Women

Oct 24, 2012 Aaron Krager No Comments
During last night’s Indiana Senate debate the Republican candidate, Richard Mourdock, did more than stick his foot in his mouth. I believe life begins at conception. The only exception I have for to have an abortion is in the case of the life of the mother. I struggled with myself for a long time but I came to realize life is that gift from...

Change.org Pits Choice and Anti-Choice Against One Another

Oct 23, 2012 Aaron Krager 1 Comment

News broke yesterday of Change.org’s decision to open its platform to anyone except hate groups. Ryan Grim covered it here, Jeff Bryant here, and my own piece.

Initial talks between Ben Rattray, the CEO and founder of Change.org, and team members started in July. Discussions, according to an internal email, highlight the founder’s desire to open the platform for everyone… except hate groups of course! These talks happened shortly after progressive activists and unions pressured the company to drop StudentsFirst and Stand for Children. Both organizations are anti-union and front for corporate education reform. Under the new guidelines both could be welcomed back with open arms.

Matt Browner Hamlin highlights a hypocrisy in Change.org’s talking points and their own internal FAQ.

The implication expressed in Change.org’s internal documents, by Change.org’s spokesman Ben Joffe-Walt who Ryan Grim quotes as saying, “Change.org is “not beholden to one community,” and by the talking points circulated by multiple Change.org staff members on progressive email list serves all point to the idea that it’s simply not possible for Change.org to make determinations about which clients are or are not progressive. As a result, they are saying they are now formally stopping to make any attempt to limit who they sell email addresses to based on their “values.”

Yet, developers for the company are working on tagging and machine learning… much like Amazon can recommend a book or product to you based upon your past interactions (read: purchases).

Like this:

Tagging: we want to move from our current 8-cause system to a much more flexible tagging system. Once complete, users and Change.org staff will be able to tag any petition in many different ways, for example as “pro-choice.” We will then be able to show that “pro-choice” advertisement to people who have signed petitions tagged as “pro-choice” while suppressing people who’ve signed “pro-life” petitions. This is technically complicated, and we’re hoping to make significant progress in 2013.

You cannot offer people an effective tool for social change when opposing forces use it again you. Offering organizations this tool to fight against women’s rights and simultaneously keep a pro-choice group is beyond crazy.

This is like giving a person a hammer to drive in a nail while giving another person that is trying to take the nail out a hammer as well. There is no theory of change with this newly proposed open platform. It is a money grab. Pure and simple. Progressive organizations should abandon Change.org just as the company abandoned them by selling out.

Late Night Comedians Have Some Fun

Oct 23, 2012 Aaron Krager No Comments

I don’t really care for David Letterman but his Top Ten was pretty damn good.

Jon Stewart goes off on the Fox News propaganda channel for some stupid misrepresentation of a remark by the President.

Democracy Now – 10/23/12

Oct 23, 2012 Aaron Krager No Comments

Change.org to Sell Out Progressive Community; Opens Platform

Oct 22, 2012 Aaron Krager 3 Comments
Change.org to Sell Out Progressive Community; Opens Platform

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.

$26,600 in Average Student Loan Debt

Oct 22, 2012 Aaron Krager No Comments
$26,600 in Average Student Loan Debt

Student debt jumped five percent for 2011 graduates compared to the debt load of 2010 graduates. It leaves young adults, typically just 22 years old, carrying an average debt of $26,600 before they even begin their first full-time job.

A rough job market is making things worse for them as 37.8 percent of recent graduates are working in jobs that do not require a college degree. These are low wage jobs and also likely to be part-time employment. The predicament leaves recent graduates between a rock and a hard place. Student loan repayment begins six months after graduation… either December or January for many of them.

A caveat about the study:

Cochrane said, “Unfortunately too little data is available to consumers.” TICAS’ report was compiled out of data voluntarily provided by schools, and though they estimate this report covers about 79 percent of bachelor’s degrees earned in 2010 and 2011, many colleges — including many for-profit colleges that target low-income students — chose not to disclose the data.

“Twelve percent of the colleges that reported debt data for 2010 didn’t report for 2011, and virtually no for-profit colleges reported at all. The need for federal collection of key debt information at all colleges could not be more clear,” said report author Matthew Reed in a press release. The report recommends the Department of Education expand the amount and type of data it collects to better illustrate a picture of debt level for students upon graduation.

This could mean the debt load carried by recent graduates is higher than reported. Plus this is an average that can be skewed by outliers on either side of the spectrum.

My student loan debt upon completing undergrad was higher than this and I finished seven years ago. Tack on graduate school and the burden also carried by a partner… a small town home mortgage!

At some point this bubble will burst much like the housing market. High school graduates might also decide to forgo college altogether. The smartest move involves community college and/or state schools but these are feeling the budget crunch on the state and federal level too.

Democracy Now – 10/22/12

Oct 22, 2012 Aaron Krager No Comments

Stewart’s Interview with Barack Obama

Oct 19, 2012 Aaron Krager No Comments

The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart sat down with the President on last night’s show. It starts out with some soft but intriguing questions. It ramps up a little bit on civil liberties but Stewart does not press ahead. He would respond that he is a comedian and not a newsman. That much is true but sadly this interview felt more pressing than anything that would happen on any mainstream media outlet.

Change.org’s Success and Caution to Users

Oct 18, 2012 Aaron Krager 1 Comment
Change.org's Success and Caution to Users

Change.org and its founder, Ben Rattray, find themselves the center of attention in the upcoming issue of Forbes magazine. The article, already published online, tells the story of Ben stumbling into the online petition world and within a few years the site becoming a hub for online slacktivism – along with making millions of dollars.

Yes, the website that promotes individuals to create their own vision of social change is a for-profit business soliciting non-profits to get your email address.

The service is free, and with a name like Change.org the company even sounds like a not-for-profit. But it’s not. It was founded in 2007 and spent the better part of two years flailing around for a profitable business model until Rattray hit upon a clever approach. Change.org charges groups for the privilege of sponsoring petitions that are matched to users who have similar interests. For example, when a person signs a petition about education and clicks “submit,” a box pops up and shows five sponsored petitions on education to also sign. If a user leaves a box checked that says “Keep me updated on this campaign and others,” the sponsor can then send e-mails directly to that person. It’s not clear from the check box that your e-mail address is being sold to a not-for-profit. Rattray says an imminent site redesign will make the company’s business model more transparent. Change.org has 300 paying clients, including Sierra Club, Credo Wireless and Amnesty International, and its revenue so far this year is $15 million.

Change.org’s business model might be why you suddenly started receiving emails from groups that you no little to nothing about. I do not begrudge the business model. In fact, it is nice to see that a company can make money doing good in the world. I do begrudge them when they brand themselves as progressive change and then work with anti-worker groups.

This hasn’t stopped it from becoming a target for political strong-arming. Earlier this year Change.org succumbed to pressure from labor unions and declined to renew ad contracts with two education reform groups, Stand for Children and StudentsFirst (headed by Michelle Rhee, the former schools chancellor of Washington, D.C.), because they favor reforms some see as antiunion. Stand for Children and StudentsFirst were baffled, saying they hadn’t broken any of Change’s terms of service. Rattray says Change.org plans to release new policies in October clarifying who can and cannot advertise on the site.

The decision to drop the two so-called reform groups came only because progressives held a progressive company responsible to it’s mission statement. I look forward to them clarifying their policies by the end of this month.

So how much does Change.org get for each email they sell to Sierra Club, CREDO, or StudentsFirst? $1.75. According to the Forbes article, Change.org’s revenue thus far for 2012 sits at $15 million. That translates into more than 8.5 million email addresses sold to other groups. If GenNetWorth’s assumptions are accurate it means Rattray earns $250,000 a year and has a net worth of $2 million. Pretty damn good money for creating a site that has allowed once powerless individuals to stand up to big banks, huge meat conglomerates, the South African government itself!

Yet, StudentsFirst still has an organizational page at Change.org and an active petition. Their page claims more than two million supporters (read it as users who have signed one of their petitions). According to tax forms StudentsFirst spent $337,000 to cultivate their email lists. Much of that money went to Change.org. We can decipher that through the number of signatures compared to other petitions sites used by StudentsFirst. They pale in comparison to the number of people using Change.org.

Change.org users should be aware of site’s monetary goals and not succumb to its do-gooder reputation. This is not to say no good can come from the site. Please do not read this post in that manner. I have signed many petitions and recognize the volume of positive change initiated through the petition site. It is merely post to caution people on the petitions they sign. They could fall prey to a anti-worker like petition or one that supports so-called “clean” energy with calls to create jobs.

Photo by huskyte

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