Countryside Alliance Chief Executive Tim Bonner writes:
The electronic petition has been a staple of animal rights campaigning for many years. Attempts to gather numbers of actual people to demonstrate against hunting or shooting have always ended in abject failure, so campaigners have sought to bypass real demonstrations of support and substitute cyber lists.
The animal rights movement has built a huge array of interconnected databases spanning issues, countries and continents and is very effective in disseminating electronic petitions and actions, and in garnering support for them. How much that ‘support’ amounts to is questionable given that it requires nothing more than a button click or screen touch, but by dealing in quantity, rather than quality, across the digital arena activists have successfully promoted campaigns on everything from hunting (of course), to ivory sales, to animal sentience, to shooting.
Many parliaments and assemblies have reacted to online campaigns by creating opportunities for people to register official petitions which will be considered by elected representatives if they reach a certain threshold. A recent petition against shooting on public land in Wales has exposed exactly how false, and frankly fraudulent, many electronic petitions are. A group called Animal Aid claimed to have collected a petition of 12,700 “signatures” which it handed in to the Welsh Assembly Government. The BBC and newspapers dutifully reported that number, but when a similar petition was submitted as an official Welsh Assembly electronic petition, subject to proper public scrutiny, it received just 119 signatures with only 24 of those coming from Wales.
It is crucially important that politicians, in particular, understand that much of the campaigning that happens in the digital sphere is manufactured dissent. The mass email campaigns, the targeted social media activity and, of course, the dodgy petitions do not represent a real reflection of public attitudes and opinions. The reduction of a ‘12,700 signature’ petition to 24 Welsh voters is absolute evidence of that.
At the moment online animal rights campaigning is putting hunt meets held on land owned or managed by local councils, on Boxing Day in particular, at risk of cancellation. One meet has already been forced to relocate. This threatens to deny many people their best opportunity to see hounds and their local hunt. We have therefore enabled you to send a message from a real person to your local council leader, expressing your support for Boxing Day meets continuing. It only takes a moment to enter your details. By sending this letter, even if your local meet does not take place on council-owned land, you will be showing your support for those local councils that are being pressured to cancel meets.
Follow me at @CA_TimB