- “Like this page to tell Congress you support Student Loan Forgiveness!
- “Please RT with #StopBullying”
- “Sign this petition to demand Japan stop killing whales!”
You see them everywhere. On your Facebook page. In your Twitter feed. On Snapchat. The request that you share, retweet or “like” a cause so the world will take notice of your outrage and change their evil ways. And a little voice in the back of your head as you share that post says… “Does this stuff actually work?”
To get the answer we went straight to a decision-maker’s mouth and spoke with New York State Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal. She was able to give us the definitive answer! Which is… it depends.
While Assemblymember Rosenthal made clear that listening to the public’s concern is one of the most important parts of her job, she also told us that how you share your opinion matters.
Tip #1: Tell ’em where you’re from!
“I’ve presented some fairly controversial pieces of legislation, like the current bill to require labeling of genetically modified food, so I will hear from some very large and vocal groups of people” Rosenthal explains. “With some forms of communication, I have no idea who those people are, or if they’re part of the community I’ve been elected to represent.”
So when 100,000 people like a cause on Facebook, Rosenthal may certainly notice – but there is no way for her to know if those people are from her community. You know – the people she works for? While decision-makers do care about people outside their electorate, their job is to speak for the people that elected them.
If the petition doesn’t ask for at least a zip code and email address, the chance is that it’s not going to do much good. Find a different one which does. And if you email, either begin your email with “As a member of your district” or give your address or zip code when you sign off.
Tip #2: Getting results means getting personal.
It’s pretty obvious when a major organization tells it’s members to email, because we’ll get the same exact email from everyone all of a sudden, within a few days.” Rosenthal said. “The group writes the text and everyone just cuts, pastes and sends.”
While it’s certainly better to email something un-original than to not email at all, Rosenthal admits “the personal email really does make a difference.”
Imagine you’ve received two different emails, both about the same cause. The first one is emailed directly to you and says
“I adopted my dog at the shelter and he’s like family to me. Every day I come home to find him waiting at the door, ready to give me kisses. I can’t imagine not having him. That’s why it’s so important to me that we all towards helping the city shelter stay open. Please help save our shelter by emailing the city council.”
Now the other email. It’s cc’d to about 90 other people with the subject: “fwd: FWD: Fwd: Fwd: Re: hi Aunt Becky!! FW: fwd: Re: RE: fwd: FWD: IMPORTANT!! PASS IT ON!” That’s followed by 20 paragraphs of dry, impersonal reading. Now imagine receiving that exact email 700 times.
Sure, they’re both important — but which one are you going to read and take action on? Yeah, us too.
The good thing is that while most petitions already have the text written for you, you are still able to delete that text and write something a little more compelling.
Tip #3: Make sure that you’re sending it to the right person!
Perhaps the handiest thing about those petition sites is that they’re set up to be sent to the proper legislator or company representative. If not, it’s simple to find the appropriate person with a quick search. To find your state’s congressperson, for example, you can plug in your information at contactingthecongress.org and it will pop out the email addresses you need. When contacting a company, simply use their “contact us” page.
And it goes without saying – a rude or threatening email will go straight into the looney-bin file. Acting like a troll won’t advance your cause a bit.
So no – you’re not doing any harm by “liking” that cause or using that hashtag. In fact, they can be great ways to start a conversation or inspire people to take action. But when you’re passionate about an issue, those few extra steps can make a world of difference.
But what if you’re too young to vote? Does your opinion still matter?
“Yes! We want to hear from you!” Rosenthal says. “We’re making decisions that will have an effect on girls’ lives now, and their lives in the future.”
You’ve got a powerful voice — get out there and use it!
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