Change.org’s Open Platform Is Sparking an Identity Crisis
“They want to ‘inspire people to be the change they want to see in the world.’ But, what type of change do they stand for?”
Last month, Disney finally announced that it would re-theme Splash Mountain at Disneyland and Disney World. The ride, based on the racist 1946 movie Song of the South, will now be rebuilt to feature Tiana, the first Black Disney princess and the star of the 2009 film The Princess and the Frog.
Though the problematic nature of Song of the South had been flagged for decades, it was, as many news outlets argued, a Change.org petition with more than 20,000 signatures that finally pushed Disney to make the decision. The articles implied that the petition represented a popular uprising and a representative showcase of a widely held opinion. But that neat narrative is belied by the fact that Change.org also hosts a petition to “Save Splash Mountain” that is currently signed by nearly 80,000 people who support the claim that “To change such an iconic ride would erode The Nostalgia that lives in Disney World and take away a little bit of the magic.”
That tension is apparent throughout Change.org. A petition for Justice for George Floyd started by a 15-year-old named Kellen currently has nearly 19 million signatures and is the most popular petition in Change.org history. But the site also hosts or has hosted petitions like Label Black Lives Matter a Hate Group, Label Black Lives Matter as a Domestic Terrorism Group, and Preserve Monument Avenue because, as the last petition reads, “Now, due to revisionist history — and even a complete lack of an understanding of history — an angry mob mentality exists among certain people who want to remove beautiful works of art in the form of Confederate monuments.”
Change.org founder Ben Rattray has said that he originally created the site in part to be a kind of Facebook but for social causes. In many ways, Change.org has never resembled Facebook as much as it does now as both sites struggle to balance their open platforms in a time when the nation is finally reckoning with systemic racism. As advertisers and civil rights groups call Facebook to task, so too are users of the platform and former employees petitioning…