One thing the Web is great for is reaching out to a potential audience of millions to garner support for your cause.
Politicians, campaigners and grass roots activists have all been quick to embrace the Internet as a means of furthering their political goals and spreading the message about their mission. This week has seen Tony Blair come under heavy pressure from his own party to resign as leader, with eight junior government members quitting in protest. So what better time for a Labour activist to launch an appeal on the Web to whip up support for poor old beleaguered Tony? Step forward David Taylor who has risen to the challenge and launched a new site called ‘Keeping the faith.’
Opening up with a plea to allow Tony “to get on with the job,” the site claims to represent ‘Labour members, activists and voters backing Tony Blair against a minority of MPs who want to bring him down.”
A page lists “Tony Blair’s top 50 achievements since being elected in 1997,” supported by backslapping quotes from senior Labour figures who are backing ol’ big ears all the way.
To further promote Tony’s cause the author has invited surfers to sign a petition to register their support, with a form inviting people to enter their name, email address and short comment.
There’s also a link inviting you to see who’s already signed up their support for Blair, and clicking on this takes you to a long list of names.
It starts off well, with regular members of the public adding their names until some wag realised that the site’s author wasn’t monitoring the signatories, neither had he set up email confirmations or IP checking -so people were free to post up as many times as they liked.
Quickly, the petition descended into farce, with characters like “Willo the Wisp”, “o rly?”, “Ming the Merciless” (both ordinary and ‘classic’ versions), “the guy from the picture insurance advert” and “Val Kilmer (in the style of Jim Morrison)” all joining up to support our Tony.
Before long, posters had worked out how to add pretty colours to their signatures and then moved on to embedding images.
As we went to press the petition was finally taken offline as the pages continued to fill up with daft names and pictures.
The author’s experience should hopefully serve as a lesson to anyone trying to use the web to further their political aims.
Rule one: Online petitions are like naughty children – turn your back on them for a minute and all hell is likely to break loose.
Rule two: If people can mess it up, they will.
Rule three: Like suitcases on tube stations, never, ever, leave an online form unattended.