“You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train.” #change.org #mustread


Director, SignOn.org, the MoveOn.org petition site

Posted: 10/23/2012 6:42 pm

 

That classic quote from Howard Zinn came to mind this morning as I was thinking about the recent news about Change.org. It’s a line Zinn started using in the 1960s to challenge his students to get involved in the civil rights movement.

History, he said, is like a moving train. You can’t ride the train and then say you have no idea how you arrived at your destination. You’re either on board or not — you can’t be neutral.

Yesterday, The Huffington Post’s Ryan Grim reported that Change.org would begin selling advertising space to any customer, including promoting right-wing petitions paid for by corporate clients. From now on, they say, they’ll be neutral.

This has led to a lot of soul-searching in the movement — and a lot of questions about SignOn.org, the online petition site that I help run and that was created by MoveOn.org. So I wanted to take this chance not to criticize others, but to explain our choices, our vision.

First, like Change.org, we at SignOn.org see the enormous, game-changing potential of giving regular folks the tools they need to run their own online campaigns.

Over the years, MoveOn has listened to our members and run incredible campaigns giving our members smart, timely ways to get involved.

But there were so many fights MoveOn couldn’t take on. Just in my own community in Maine we have a growing homeless population, schools that need money, sewage runoff polluting the beaches, and so much more.

And after the 2010 election, the rise of the tea party, and Citizens United, we realized that what we were doing wasn’t enough. So we set out to re-invent people-powered politics by tapping into the passion and leadership of our seven million members to run hundreds more campaigns than we could ever take on before.

MoveOn launched SignOn.org about 18 months ago, and already tens of thousands of people have started petitions and many of them have scored amazing victories.

Robert Applebaum, an attorney in New York, started a SignOn.org petition calling for student loan forgiveness and it spread quickly, gathering more than a million signatures. Then, something amazing happened. President Obama responded — not with a form letter, but with an actual change in policy that will lower student loan payments for more than 1.6 million people.

When religious conservatives in Utah tried to pass a bill banning sex education in public schools, over 40,000 Utahns signed a petition urging the governor to veto the bill — and he did. The petition was started by Paul Krueger, a school bus driver and retired firefighter, who was quoted in the news coverage as saying, “I’ve never done anything like this, and it’s kind of amazing how fast this took off.”

And when Delaware Governor Jack Markell was considering supporting weak rules for fracking in the region, John Kowalko started a petition on SignOn.org urging the governor to vote no. After more than 1,000 signatures and a wave of media coverage, Gov. Markell came out against the rules, protecting drinking water for more than 15 million people.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg, and the movement is growing every day.

So how is this different from Change.org? First, SignOn.org is non-profit and proudly progressive. Our goal is to make America live up to our best progressive ideals as a nation. We don’t answer to shareholders; we answer to our members — seven million Americans who share a commitment to making our country better through collective action. We will never, ever, ever give right-wing front groups a channel for co-opting our members’ organizing.

Second, we never, ever let anyone pay us to promote their campaign. If MoveOn asks you to sign a petition, you don’t have to wonder if it’s because someone paid us to. We trust our members to decide which campaigns to promote, and their judgment has been impeccable.

Third, we built SignOn.org to empower long-term organizing. Petitions are great, but most of the time it takes an ongoing campaign to win real change. So we want SignOn.org petition creators to send regular email updates to the MoveOn members who sign their petitions, and our toolset provides unlimited, free access to do so.

In short, we take sides, and we’re proud of it. We’re for economic justice, equality for women and LGBT individuals, ending poverty, racial justice, quality education for all, a clean environment, and peace. Because like Howard Zinn said, you can’t be neutral on a moving train.

 

Change.org –the Brutal Betrayal !


by- MattBrowner Hamlin

Yesterday news broke that Change.org, an historically progressive-leaning distributed organizing platform, would shift to working with any advertising client, regardless of political affiliation. The story has been ably covered byRyan GrimJeff Bryant, and Aaron Krager – I highly recommend you read their pieces, all of which hinge around leaked internal Change.org documents that cover this shift.

The documents are well worth reading and have been posted by Krager (all links are PDFs). They include:

  • July 2012 email from CEO Ben Rattray to staff explaining the recent decisions by senior staff to pursue a big change in their client advertising policy;
  • September 2012 email from Rattray to their staff explaining the shift;
  • Rebrand-InternalFAQs-Change
  • As I said, the posts linked above give a good run down of the general problems associated with this shift in policy and values form Change.org. I recommend you read them and the leaked documents, which give a very clear view of the goals and motives behind this shift.

    I want to draw attention to one particular aspect of Change.org’s justifications for this move, quoting Jeff Bryant:

    What will change is that Change.org will no longer “filter potential advertisers” based on the advertisers’ “values.” Nor will Change.org filter potential advertisers based on any “gut feelings about the content of the ad itself.”

    The implication expressed in Change.org’s internal documents, by Change.org’s spokesman Ben Joffe-Walt who Ryan Grim quotes as saying, “Change.org is “not beholden to one community,” and by the talking points circulated by multiple Change.org staff members on progressive email list serves all point to the idea that it’s simply not possible for Change.org to make determinations about which clients are or are not progressive. As a result, they are saying they are now formally stopping to make any attempt to limit who they sell email addresses to based on their “values.”

    These talking points are undermined by their expressed strategies for evolving their advertising platform. In a section in their internal FAQ titled, “When will we be able to target ads better?” they have this explanation:

    • Machine learning: we are developing the technology to match action alerts to users, which utilizes everything we know about a user (what petitions they’ve signed, geography, demographics) to match them to petitions they’re most likely to be interested in. This is complicated technology but should bear fruit in 2013. Once that happens, we should be able to repurpose the technology and use everything we know about a user (what petitions they’ve signed, geography, demographics) to match them to the ads (sponsored petitions) they’re most likely to be interested in.
    • Tagging: we want to move from our current 8-cause system to a much more flexible tagging system. Once complete, users and Change.org staff will be able to tag any petition in many different ways, for example as “pro-choice.” We will then be able to show that “pro-choice” advertisement to people who have signed petitions tagged as “pro-choice” while suppressing people who’ve signed “pro-life” petitions. This is technically complicated, and we’re hoping to make significant progress in 2013.

    To be clear, what this means is not only that Change.org is saying internally that they are capable of assessing the political orientation of an advertiser or a petition, but that this assessment is something which is critical to their evolved business model.

    I raise this point because to me the idea of determining what is or is not in line with the values this company espoused since its founding until this week is completely possible. It’s been done with relative success by Change.org – excepting their work with union busting clients like Students First and Stand for Children – throughout the history of the firm. And most importantly, their ability to determine if a client should target liberal or conservative audiences is central to their future business model. They will be selling organizations and companies this ability – it’s what will make their ads worth money to their clients.

    When I look at Change.org’s talking points and internal messaging documents,  I see a lot of sophistry and disingenuous argumentation that I’m not going to go through now. I see statements like they’re not doing this for the money and since I am not a mind reader, I can only speculate whether or not that is true.

    But Change.org is telling the public that they are simply incapable of figuring out if their clients are liberal or conservative and as a result must throw up their hands to even trying to make the choice – this is a flat-out lie. Their own technology development and advertising targeting plans reveal it as a lie. Not only are they capable of making a determination as to what a client’s values are, it’s what they are selling their clients to maximize the impact they have as an advertising platform.

    There’s a lot to be unhappy about with this devolution at Change.org. I’m sure others will write more about it in coming days and I’m guessing I will too. But the completely cynical use of a lie about their fundamental ability to figure out who they are partnering with when they sell ads is something that I feel compelled to highlight first and foremost.

Change.org Changing: Site To Allow Corporate, Anti-Abortion, GOP Campaigns #takecaction


Ryan Grim

ryan@huffingtonpost.com

 (UPDATE)

Posted: 10/22/2012 5:58 pm EDT Updated: 10/23/2012 9:44 pm EDT

Change

WASHINGTON — Change.org, the online social movement company founded on progressive values, has decided to change its advertising policy to allow for corporate advertising, Republican Party solicitations, astroturf campaigns, anti-abortion or anti-union ads and other controversial sponsorships, according to internal company documents.

Change.org allows users to launch and sign petitions, and the company has had somehigh-profile successes. Change.org currently operates under a values-based client policy, only accepting advertisements from progressive organizations that share its values. The new policy will be closer to “a Google-like open advertising policy in which determinations about which advertisements we’ll accept are based on the content of the ad, not the group doing the advertising,” according to a company FAQ sent to staff. The document was leaked to Jeff Bryant, an associate fellow at the Campaign for America’s Future, a liberal organization, who subsequently provided it and others to The Huffington Post.

The company will implement the shift on Oct. 24, according to the memo.

“Change.org built its reputation on arming Davids to take on the Goliaths of the world,” Bryant told HuffPost. “Now it seems that the company thinks David and Goliath should be on the same team.”

Change.org did not plan to reach out to its base of progressive users about the change. “[W]e have no plans to proactively tell users about the new design or our new mission, vision, or advertising guidelines,” reads one document.

The press was to be kept similarly in the dark. “We are not planning proactive press outreach on the rebrand but are queuing up positive press profiles to launch around Oct. 22,” reads the FAQ in the document, urging staff to keep things confidential and referring to the initial launch date, which has since been postponed.

The current Change.org policy limits sponsored campaigns to progressive organizations. “We accept sponsored campaigns from organizations fighting for the public good and the common values we hold dear — fairness, equality, and justice,” reads the site’s soon-to-be replaced policy. “We do not accept sponsored campaigns from organizations that consistently violate these values, support discriminatory policies, or seek private corporate benefit that undermines the common good.”

After the shift, Change.org’s new policy will specifically allow campaigns that its liberally minded site users might find objectionable. “What about anti-abortion, pro-gun and union-busting advertising?” reads the FAQ in the leaked document.

“We are open to organizations that represent all points of view, including those with which we personally (and strongly) disagree,” reads the answer.

Benjamin Joffe-Walt, director of communications for Change.org, acknowledged that the changes as outlined in the internal documents will be implemented. Joffe-Walt said the company never intended to pitch itself as strictly progressive.

“It’s not what we ever claimed to be,” he said.

Joffe-Walt said a new, general guide for the new company policy would be: “If Google will allow it, we would allow it.”

Change.org leadership met in San Francisco this summer to hash out its new advertising policy following a public uproar in July over the site’s partnership with Michelle Rhee, whose organization works in opposition to labor unions. “[W]e looked long and hard at our client policy in the context of our vision. This was the most difficult part of the weekend, but after many hours of discussion and edge cases we ultimately agreed that the current closed approach is simply not feasible,” Change.org’s founder and CEO Ben Rattray wrote in an email to staff, which was also leaked to HuffPost by Bryant.

“[W]e as an organization have transitioned from an American cause-based organizing network with a largely progressive agenda into a global platform open to a wider diversity of participants and perspectives,” he wrote. “Yet the honest reality is that we haven’t fully made this transition. At least in the US, we still often see things through a traditional partisan progressive lens, and over the past couple months it’s become clear that we have a choice: we can continue to try to have it both ways and risk getting pigeonholed into being a partisan organization with a particular agenda and limited audience, or we can break out of this mold and aspire to something much bigger –- to true empowerment everywhere.”

Labor and progressive organizations, which make up a sizable base of Change.org’s client list, threatened to pull out over the Rhee situation. After reports that Change.org was dropping Rhee and another controversial anti-union group as clients, the site continues to run her petitions.

It remains to be seen how current site users and clients will react to a new ad policy that opens the platform to opponents. Three of Change.org’s most prominent clients are the Sierra Club, Amnesty International and Credo Mobile, which runs the second-biggest progressive online activist group, after MoveOn.org.

According to the internal memo, the new policy will still allow the company to reject an ad if accepting it would threaten Change.org’s “brand.” Such rejections, according to the FAQ, will only be made by Rattray, who has been named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people.

Joffe-Walt said the “vast majority of Change.org” users were not strictly liberal or progressive. “We’re in 196 countries,” he said, adding that it sounds like those who might criticize the policy shift “don’t want us to be on an open platform.”

Change.org’s advertising policy shift demonstrates the potential perils of for-profit companies founded on progressive values, and shows the power of money even outside the sphere of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. Change.org’s strategic break with the progressive movement comes just days after the board of another for-profit progressive company, Salsa Labs, ousted its CEO. Salsa is a prominent campaign organizing platform that took $5 million in venture capital funding last year — a move the two cofounders say they “deeply regret.” Fitzgibbon Media, which only works with progressive organizations, has decided to drop the company as a client because it no longer considers Salsa in that category, according to founder Trevor Fitzgibbon.

“We remain committed to serving only progressive clients, reaffirmed that publicly on Friday, and have given no indication otherwise. Salsa’s change in CEO was solely a management change and is not indicative of any shift in our corporate vision or mission,” said Dave Leichtman, a Salsa vice president. Salsa’s main rival, Blue State Digital, sold itself to the corporate firm WPP in 2010.

Rattray has also recently been meeting with a number of well-known venture capital firms, according to his internal calendar, which was shared with Bryant. The venture giants include Google Ventures, Bridges Ventures and Acumen Fund, among others. Joffe-Walt stressed that the meetings “have absolutely nothing” to do with the change in advertising policy. The company is continuing to speak with venture capitalists, Joffe-Walt said, but will only work with a “mission-aligned investor.”

While it had no plans to proactively let users or the media know of its plans for a new direction, Change.org did tell staff it would launch new, “awesome language” on its site on Monday to better describe the company, the memo said. In a separate email to employees, Rattray laid out the new language to describe the company’s mission: “To empower people everywhere to create the change they want to see.”

In its internal memo to employees, Change.org justified its decision to change its advertising policy by referencing the dispute over Rhee. The situation was excessively time-consuming, the memo states, and the research efforts involved in such disputes “simply don’t scale” as the firm continues to grow globally.

“[W]e believe open advertising guidelines will help us maximize our mission,” offers the memo. What’s good for the business is good for the world, it argues, and an open platform that empowers more people will lead to positive change. Furthermore, the memo says, the rejection of some advertisers for moral or political reasons is an implicit endorsement of other advertisers — something the company wants to avoid.

Change’s softening of its liberal stance leaves the space open for competitors like Care2.com, which is also for-profit, and MoveOn.org, which offers petition software called SignOn and is a nonprofit organization. Care2 has been around longer than Change.org, and has significantly more clients, but the company lags behind Change.org in terms of public relations. Asked if Care2 would accept clients whose values the company doesn’t share, Clinton O’Brien, a Care2.com vice president, said no.

“Care2 will never run a campaign for the NRA, or from advocacy groups that don’t support a woman’s right to control her own body,” O’Brien told HuffPost. “Just like we will never sell an ad campaign to Monsanto or some other for-profit whose behavior we think is widely recognized to be negative for society or the planet … We consider it our duty to accept or reject clients on a case-by-case basis.”

Steven Biel, the director of SignOn, echoed the sentiment.

“When you see MoveOn.org promote a petition, you never have to wonder if we’re doing it because someone paid us to,” Biel wrote in an email to HuffPost. “For years, progressives have built a huge advantage over the right wing on the Internet, and it would be awful to lose that in service of a short-term payday.”

Change.org leadership, in explaining the policy shift to its staff around the world, noted that some of the changes could not be implemented immediately because there would be no support base among current users for the advertising campaigns the company may pursue.

“It’s irresponsible for us to sell advertising to a group that we don’t have the audience to support, and it’s bad user service to show users ads they don’t want to see,” reads an internal FAQ sent to staffers.

Change.org scooped up many of the most talented and well-known progressive activists when it initially launched, making the company’s departure from the movement more jarring.

As it attempts to expand its customer base to include conservatives and Republicans, Change.org is in a precarious position. In order to successfully make the pivot, the company will need to hold on to its base of progressive clients and users long enough for it to build a bridge across the spectrum. That means burying sponsored ads that its base will find objectionable. “We’ll also be investing heavily in building strong feedback loops so that sponsored campaigns our users don’t like will be hidden or even taken down from the site,” reads the memo. “This is going to be essential to our success as we build a much larger and diverse base.”

Rattray, in an email to staff that hinted at possible departures as a result of the shift, struck a hopeful tone.

“For some of you, this vision won’t feel like a shift at all. For others, it might seem like a big reframing of who we are. But if this feels a little unsafe, know this: nothing big was ever achieved by taking the safe option. We’re attempting something nobody else has done before – to transcend traditional partisanship and build a global empowerment platform that reaches hundreds of millions of people. It’s not easy to do, and will require difficult choices that will challenge each of us. But in the long run, it’s how we will change the world,” he wrote.

Joffe-Walt said Change.org is “not beholden to one community.”

“We’ve created a new platform that has enabled things to happen that weren’t possible before. We’re helping to drive net positive change in the world — with the emphasis on net,” he said.

UPDATE: Oct. 23, 9:25 p.m. — Benjamin Joffe-Walt, Change.org’s managing director of global communications, said that the source of the leak is no longer with Change.org.

“A Huffington Post article about our new advertising guidelines revealed that a blogger had obtained access to internal Change.org documents. We’ve identified the person who leaked the documents and they are no longer with the company. We respect their privacy and we are not releasing their name,” he said in a statement, adding that “this was a case in which a Change.org staffer shared internal documents and the private schedule of our founder and CEO with a journalist. Content aside, there is simply no situation in any organization or company in which the result would have been different. The suspicion that such a move is an attempt to punish a ‘whistleblower’ couldn’t be further from the truth: the leaked documents and emails in question are available to all our employees and outline plans to be fully transparent about our business model and new advertising guidelines. While we wouldn’t normally communicate externally through a painfully long, 12-page document, it outlines a number of important concerns and if anyone is inclined to read it they are more than welcome to do so. There are no nefarious secrets to reveal and no whistle was blown.”

PLEASE ASK CHANGE.ORG TO COME OUT CLEAN NOW !!.

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