It’s a rainy day and you’re sitting comfortably on your couch, wrapped up in a snugly blanket you bought from an ad on your Facebook feed… a nice cup of chai tea latte is right by your side. All is well in your world. Suddenly and without warning, your eyes magnetically focus and zoom in on the horrible video displaying on your screen, your heart begins to palpitate as you rush to un-follow or block the person that posted this gruesome message regarding animal abuse in a land far far away. They have succeeded in not only invading your cozy little space and destroying your perfect zen moment, but they have also damaged you temporarily as you struggle to get these images out of your head. Their reasoning? You should sign on an online petition and stop what you just witnessed! Yes! How dare you take one more sip of that chai tea latte, while animals suffer needlessly, before your thumbs do all the work of filling out that digital roll call of those with moral and just values. Jumping into action might also help erase what you just saw, and you can return to your kindle, tea, and life of ignorance…yes this thought actually crosses your mind. But did you ever realize what’s actually occurring behind the scenes of these online petitions? Do you think someone actually manages servers and technical infrastructure for free? Of course not. Hang onto your chai tea latte because online petitions are actually a multi-million dollar business and those ugly videos are helping people to make some serious money.
Yulin is a city in China with a population of almost seven million people according to Wikipedia. Tourists flock there to bathe in hot mineral springs and the city is rich in natural resources. Part of their economy is agricultural based, growing everything from tea, bananas, oranges, mangoes, pigs, chickens and dogs. No that wasn’t a typo, yes, they raise dogs for food. Relax, there will be no gut wrenching photos or vivid descriptions in this article, in fact, the exact opposite. What you need to know is that there’s a business model here for people to react, and when they do, money is exchanged. Yes, your emotional response is generating income for a company that has little or no control over anything that happens in China. If you can get past the gruesome video to change.org, or any other petition based website, the advertisements you see, and subsequently click on, generate revenue for the company. This sort of model is pretty universal on the Internet, everyone uses it because it works. But it doesn’t stop there.
According to the Direct Marketing Association, your email address has an ROI (return on investment) of %4,300. That means for every dollar spent on email marketing, you will potentially earn $40 in return as described by the marketing website justuno.com. Yeah, that’s a really nice return! When you’re emailing the right people about the right things, it’s a cash cow. I bet you didn’t realize how much money firstname.lastname@example.org was worth, did you Cathy?
So in general here’s how it works. A charity or cause pays a petition website to show gruesome videos or imagery on FaceBook in the hope someone will respond. Many of these sites, including change.org, are for profit companies (as explained in the change.org FAQ), yeah no 501c there people. They treat these “promoted petitions” just like advertisements. Same deal as promoted tweets on twitter…. it’s free unless you want mass exposure. As part of their contract, the charities are “given” your information. Makes sense right? You’d want to know the name, address and email of every person that supports your cause. Only now the charities or organizations can also sell your contact information and make more money, something you’d should feel comfortable about… right? After all, it’s for charity. Think of the dogs folks… works doesn’t it?
Okay so now you now that dogs in Yulin help make people rich in the United States. Who cares right? As long as your petition can effect change!!! But where does that petition go? We hope some huge official in Yulin will see that petition sent to his inox and won’t delete it. Perhaps it’s actually mailed in a big box? I bet he’ll take that stack of paper out to the streets and shut down the entire dog eating thing right then and there. Or maybe he won’t. Maybe he eats dogs himself and thinks it’s pretty yummy, especially with some American BBQ Sauce (don’t tell his parents, they always made fun of him for eating KC Masterpiece). At the very least I’m sure they’ll stop killing chickens, pigeons and goats in “religious” sacrifice…oh sorry that’s Miami… you know in Florida? Yeah there’s hundreds of “Botanicas” that sell these animals for that very purpose, Google it for the one nearest you. Bet you didn’t know that either. Where’s the petition to make that stop? Take a sip of your chai tea latte, you’ll feel much better… or maybe you won’t.
The simple fact is that signing these petitions usually does little unless there’s plenty of national or international exposure to go along with it. It’s icing on the cake of something big, it’s not the ignition switch to effect change. What it is doing, is making a whole lot of people lots of money. And then there’s those decrepit humans on Facebook that are actually getting a rise from spreading these videos, knowing that your chai tea latte is gonna lose all the attention it worked so hard to deserve. They don’t care about the dogs, the cats, the whatever… they only care about ruining your day. It’s masochistic and your reaction fuels their desire to do it even more.
The way to effect change is to hit people where it hurts the most, their wallet. So you go to Wikipedia like I just did and you research the country that’s known for their dog eating and you don’t go visit their fabulous springs. You send a receipt of all the money you just spent in the neighboring prefecture to their head of tourism and explain why. Yeah you actually have to write a letter and mail it as opposed to taking 4 seconds to auto-fill a petition. You tell your friends and neighbors about it, you knock on doors. Yeah you actually have to get off that couch, stop drinking your chai tea latte and do something! Imagine that? Eventually, someone there in Yulin might notice they’re not getting as many visitors, losing lots of cash and do something about it. Do your part. Your thumbs aren’t going to help dogs in a country half way around the world, with folks firmly grounded in their culturally accepted practice… which is actually a huge festival. This is like someone trying to shut down the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade because they love their pet turkeys over in you know where Egypt. I’m not saying give up the good fight. Just fight in smarter ways, that actually make a difference, and stop creating a market for what you hate. That’s how you really help your furry friends.