A bunch of committed Europeans – Green MEPs Franziska Brantner and Sven Giegold, and Thomas Houdaille, Charlotte Keup, Virginia Mucchi and Spyros Michailidis – have launched a new website called Avanti Europe. It essentially looks like some sort of European version of Avaaz, 38 Degrees or Change.org only, unlike those sites, at the moment it lacks a mob to mobilise. It is accompanied by a sort of manifesto about how the EU project is going off the rails – that is hence its major difference to the other platforms I cite above – it is trying to find ways to solve EU-wide problems.
Yet the site suffers from the same problems as Avaaz or 38 Degrees, or indeed any system of mass online petitioning. What does the signature of a petition actually mean? Is one Avanti signature the same as one Avaaz signature? Or a signature on paper? Or an e-mail to a MEP or head of state? In essence Avanti Europe fails to answer the main question posed by Clay Shirky in this excellent 2010 presentation at PdF New York: how do we separate out the signal from the noise in online participation?
Second, the first Avanti Europe action “Solidarity with the people in Greece!” says too much, and hence says nothing – that the Troika and the Greek government should revise their austerity plans and put humans and their needs at the centre of your decisions. That’s not even measurable, and the Greek government and the Troika would say that they were trying to do this already anyway. SMART objectives work just as well in online campaigns than they do anywhere else.
So, overall, what the people behind Avanti Europe are trying to do seems all very well to me, but I do wonder about the viability of the project. There are already well established players in this sector, and online mobilisation needs to be more savvy than just a petition-gathering effort.
(Note: I know Franziska, Thomas and Virginia, three of the founders of the site)