What successful online petitions have in common
Study: A multi-appeal model of persuasion for online petition success: A linguistic cue-based approach
Online petitions play an increasingly important role in the political life of many countries. They are a powerful tool for motivating political change, allowing people to easily participate in the political discourse and eventually influence policy- and decision making. Despite their growing popularity, the success rate of online petitions is still regrettably low.
To better understand what differentiates successful from unsuccessful petitions, this paper investigates how textual information in online petitions influences their success and the level of support they receive. On a higher level this knowledge can help to better understand the dissemination and consumption of online content in the field of e-politics.
The study identifies several linguistic factors that influence the success and popularity (number of signatures) of online petitions. Petitions that project moral beliefs and impose moral obligations were shown to be less successful. The study also found that positive language is linked to a higher number of signatures while negative language is linked to a lower petition success. Moreover, wording that indicates insights and new facts on an issue (cognitive enlightenment cues) increases a petitions chance of success. On the other hand, the use of word which invoke logical and fact based arguments (cognitive orientation cues) did not show any positive influence on a petitions success. Finally, the success of petitions is hindered by linguistic clues that indicate either understatement or overstatement.
These findings can help online petitioners to avoid pitfalls in crafting their messages as captured in the following implications:
How it was studied:
1. Discuss morality in a neutral unbiased and objective way
2. Focus on the positive outcomes of the proposed changes instead on complaints
3. Provide novel up-to-date knowledge in a manner that is easy to understand
4. Present issues and solutions honestly (not overstated) yet confidently (not understated)
A total of 45,377 petitions were extracted from the online petition platform Change.org. The linguistic and content analysis tool General Inquirer (GI) was used to measure four factors of cognitive appeal as well as two factors each of emotional and moral appeal in all petition texts. The effect of the extracted factors on petition success and the number of signatures a petition accumulated was then modeled with a logistic and a linear regression.