In an era where information can spread extensively with the click of a button, Change.org stands out as a platform that allows anyone to voice their concerns about businesses, individuals, or social issues, and rally others to join in their stated mission via public petition. While many utilize Change.org for positive or just causes based on true and accurate information, the ability for someone to post anonymously on the platform can create significant problems for individuals who have been targeted by an unfair or defamatory petition based on false information.
If you are the target of a defamatory petition on Change.org, here are some steps to take to attempt to remove a petition from the platform:
- Document evidence of damages to you or your business;
- Contact the petitioner and request removal;
- Familiarize yourself with Change.org’s Terms of Service (Community Guidelines);
- Report the petition for Change.org Terms of Service violations; and
- Work with an experienced defamation or content removal attorney to explore legal options to compel the removal of the petition.
At Minc Law, we have extensive experience navigating the ins and outs of defamation in the United States (and across the globe). In our tenure, we have removed over 25,000 pieces of defamatory content from the internet, identified anonymous perpetrators behind online attacks, and helped thousands of individuals and businesses protect their online reputations.
In this article, we will guide you through the process of removing defamatory petitions from Change.org, offering practical tips and insights to help you protect your online reputation.
Understanding Change.org’s Terms of Service & Community Guidelines
You have likely heard the name ‘Change.org’ while browsing (or listening to) various news outlets, podcasts, or social media platforms. Change.org is a prominent online petition platform that empowers individuals worldwide to advance and support causes they believe in.
At its best, it serves as a tool for positive and necessary social changes, enabling millions to voice their concerns or rally behind initiatives that matter to them. At its worst, it serves as a tool to rapidly publish and disseminate false and defamatory information about a person or business in the name of a noble cause that can start shaping the public perception before anyone has a chance to respond.
What is Change.org?
Change.org is a globally recognized petition website operated by a nonprofit organization based in the United States. With over 450 million users worldwide, rapidly growing by more than two million new users a month, Change.org is the world’s largest petition platform. It serves as a powerful platform that raises awareness and influences decision-makers in various sectors of society.
Individuals, organizations, and businesses alike use Change.org to champion their causes and rally supporters. The petitions on Change.org encompass a wide range of topics, from general justice, economic justice, criminal justice, and human rights, to education, environmental protection, animal rights, health, and sustainable food.
Change.org Petition Guidelines
Change.org provides a set of Community Guidelines that users are required and expected to follow when creating and promoting petitions on the platform. These guidelines strictly prohibit
- Hate speech,
- Bullying and harassment,
- Any form of harm to children, and
- Other unlawful conduct, among other guidelines.
While these policies are in place, there are instances when petitions that violate these rules go live and gain traction. Unfortunately, in some cases, these may include malicious or defamatory petitions that can cause harm to individuals or organizations.
Why Change.org May Be Problematic & Threaten Your Online Reputation
With over 115 million users in the U.S. alone and a staggering 450 million worldwide, Change.org wields substantial influence and reach. A single petition, if it gains traction, can significantly impact public opinion and spark broad discussions. While this can be a potent force for positive change, the sheer volume of users and potential for virality also creates an avenue for online attacks.
Petitions May Be Weaponized Against Individuals or Groups
Petitions on Change.org take many forms, making them versatile tools capable of addressing many social, political, or economic issues. While this versatility can be positive, it also means that petitions can be weaponized against individuals or groups.
It may be a petition targeting an employee asking for their termination. Or, it could be a personal petition aimed at a private individual. The reasons behind these petitions can range from legitimate concerns to personal vendettas or groundless accusations. Regardless of the justification, these petitions can inflict considerable damage on an individual or business’s reputation if they gain traction.
Section 230 Protections & Free Speech
Change.org prides itself on being a platform that encourages free speech and the expression of diverse opinions. Consistent with its mission to “empower people everywhere to create the change they want to see,” the company is often hesitant to remove controversial or offensive petitions. This stance is based on the belief that individuals have the right to voice their opinions, regardless of whether others agree with them.
An example of this was seen in 2017 when a petition demanding the removal of a Confederate statue gained national attention. The petition stirred controversy and was met with both support and criticism. Even though there were requests to remove the petition, Change.org chose not to remove it, stating that the petition did not breach their Terms of Service (TOS).
However, this approach can negatively impact those who find themselves targeted by defamatory petitions. Due to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, online platforms that rely on user-generated content (like Change.org) are granted broad immunity from civil liability. Section 230 provides that no hosting platform shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any content posted by its users.
This legal protection, coupled with Change.org’s commitment to free speech, can make it challenging to remove a petition, even when it contains defamatory statements.
Requires Proof of Violation of TOS or Legal Action For Removal
According to its Community Guidelines, Change.org may choose to remove petitions that violate its TOS. This includes petitions that incite hate speech, harassment, or violence.
Essentially, for a petition to be removed, there needs to be tangible proof of a TOS violation or legal action compelling the removal. This policy can add a layer of complexity for those seeking to have defamatory content removed from the platform.
One feature of the platform is the ability for users to create anonymous petitions. This anonymity can have both beneficial and detrimental effects.
On the positive side, anonymity can enable people to express their thoughts and concerns without fearing retaliation, intimidation, or discrimination. This can be crucial for those advocating for sensitive or potentially contentious issues.
However, anonymity also presents a set of challenges, especially when it comes to addressing defamatory content.
One of these challenges is the difficulty in identifying the creators of a particular petition. Without this information, it becomes harder to hold individuals accountable. It also makes it difficult to correct any factual inaccuracies or misleading statements in the petition. In cases where anonymous petitions are used to spread false information, it may be challenging to address the content without first identifying the anonymous creator.
What is the Potential Impact of a Defamatory or Malicious Petition on Change.org?
Defamatory or malicious petitions on Change.org can have a profoundly damaging impact on the reputations of individuals or businesses. Below are some of the most common consequences these types of petitions can cause:
- Reputation Damage: One of the most immediate impacts of defamatory petitions is reputational damage. A survey conducted on behalf of the Public Relations Society of America found that 88% of Americans agree that “a company’s reputation is its most important asset.” A damaging petition can cause lasting harm to one’s personal and professional reputation.
- Economic Consequences: Defamatory petitions can lead to job loss or business harm. Employers may decide to terminate employment due to negative publicity from the petition. For businesses, a malicious petition can tarnish their brand image and potentially drive away customers.
- Emotional Distress: Being the target of a defamatory petition can lead to emotional distress. Such an experience can be traumatic and can also raise concerns for personal safety if the petition includes threats or harmful content.
- Psychological Impact: As a result of the negative effects on one’s reputation, relationships, and professional life, individuals may suffer from psychological damage such as anxiety and depression.
Strategies to Remove Defamatory Petitions from Change.org
Removing harmful petitions from Change.org may seem daunting or insurmountable but there are several effective strategies to utilize to attempt to compel a petition’s removal. Below, we provide clear, actionable steps to effectively request the removal of defamatory petitions from Change.org.
Document Evidence of Damages
Documenting evidence is critical when it comes to confronting any form of defamation. It is essential to have a record of the petition itself and the number of individuals who have signed or subscribed to it. This can later help prove the extent of exposure and, possibly, the damages you have sustained. Additionally, preserve copies of any written communications you received about the petition or the allegations contained in the petition.
Also, document evidence of the negative effects caused by the petition. For instance, you may have interactions with friends, family, or strangers who have mentioned the petition. These conversations can provide proof of harm, so be sure to document them. This step is necessary to build a strong case for the removal of the petition.
Contact the Petitioner & Request Removal (If Known)
If you come across a petition that unfairly targets you or your business, you may consider reaching out to the person who started it if you know who they are. Starting a conversation with them could help clear up misunderstandings or incorrect information. It also provides you a chance to explain the damage the petition is causing and to ask them to take it down willingly.
However, it is important to understand that requesting that the petitioner remove or alter the petition may do more harm than good. For example, if the petitioner does not respond well to your request, they may end up posting about you again and drawing even more attention to the petition. This is known as the “Streisand Effect,” where an attempt to hide or remove something online ends up making it more popular.
Remember, if the person behind the petition does not agree to take it down, or if you cannot reach them because they are anonymous or unresponsive, there are still other steps you can take.
Report the Petition For Change.org Terms of Service (ToS) Violation(s)
If you find a petition on Change.org that is unlawful or false, one of the first steps you can take is to report it for violating the site’s Community Guidelines. Because Change.org is a user-generated content platform, they do not fact-check or endorse any campaigns or content users post, which is why you will find a variety of petitions on their platform.
However, they do aim to keep the platform safe for their users. So, if you spot a petition that violates their rules, you can report it, and they will look into it to determine if it violates their Terms of Service.
While you may come across petitions you do not agree with, remember that they will remain on the site as long as they do not break the platform’s rules.
How to Report Petition on Change.org
To report a petition that you believe violates Change.org’s Community Guidelines, follow these steps:
- Log into your Change.org account.
- Find the petition you want to report and scroll down to the bottom of its description.
- Below the comments section, you will see a button that says, “Report a policy violation.” Click on this button.
- A menu will appear where you can choose a category for your report.
- You must provide a reason for your report before you can submit it. Try to be as specific as possible, as this will help the Support team when they look into your claim.
How to Report Comment on Change.org
If you come across a comment on Change.org that you believe violates the site’s rules, here is what you need to do to report it:
- Find the comment you want to report.
- Click on the “Report” button underneath the comment. This will bring up the reporting menu.
- Choose a category for your report.
- Provide a reason for your report. Make sure to be specific so the Support team can better assess your claim.
- After submitting your report, the Change.org team will review it. If they find that the content on the user’s account does violate the Community Guidelines, they will take action. This could be anything from giving the user a warning to removing their content or permanently disabling their account.
Remember that the Change.org team reviews reported petitions and comments in the order they receive them. Submitting multiple reports will not change the order in which they review your report. If they require more information about your report, they will get in touch with you.
Legal Options to Remove Defamatory Petitions From Change.org
If none of the above methods prove effective in removing a defamatory petition, it may be time to explore legal options.
It is important to remember that each situation is unique, and what works for one may not work for all. However, the law does provide options that may help in some cases.
Determine if the Petition Crosses into Defamation
When facing a harmful petition, it is important to assess whether the petition legally crosses into the territory of “defamation.” This is crucial because the false or misleading information may potentially violate the law, enabling you to take legal action.
In most states, a claim for defamation requires that a plaintiff prove the following four elements:
- A false statement that presents itself as a fact concerning the plaintiff,
- The defendant communicates or publishes it to a third party,
- The defendant meets the appropriate degree of fault in making the false statement, and
- The statement causes damages to the plaintiff.
While these elements form the general structure of a defamation claim, keep in mind that this is a speech-related claim, and various defamation defenses may potentially be relied on by the creator of the petition. As such, it is crucial to thoroughly review the specifics of your case with a legal professional.
Work With an Experienced Defamation or Content Removal Attorney
Confronting and removing online defamation can be tricky due to the evolving nature of the law. This is why it is imperative to work with an attorney who has experience with both internet defamation and content removal.
Experienced defamation attorneys can help you navigate the complexities of online defamation, such as identifying whether a petition is defamatory, identifying the person responsible, reporting the content to the platform, and how to pursue full removal. They can provide informed advice on what is required to file a lawsuit and how to effectively assert your claims.
Moreover, experienced internet defamation attorneys can guide you through the specific rules, requirements, and considerations associated with removing petitions from platforms like Change.org. Their expertise can be invaluable in resolving online defamation effectively and efficiently.
Explore Your Options For the Petition’s Removal
An experienced defamation attorney can help you examine your options for removing a petition. They can discuss potential alternative solutions and help you decide if pursuing a particular course of action is worth the time, cost, and potential stress.
Sometimes, taking legal action may not be the best course of action to resolve your matter, especially considering the costs and risk of drawing more attention to the defamatory petition. Other times, filing a lawsuit may be the only effective way to address the issue.
An attorney can help you weigh these considerations and decide on the best strategy for your specific situation. They can offer a knowledgeable perspective on the likely outcomes and help you make an educated decision.
Reach Out to Change.org to Request Removal
Experienced defamation attorneys have the ability to navigate the complexities of content removal requests. They are skilled in presenting evidence and communicating with platforms like Change.org and can leverage their expertise to request the removal of defamatory petitions.
When approaching these matters, attorneys will examine various aspects, such as the nature of the allegations, who posted them, and the public response to the petition. The success of the petition can also be a factor – if the petition has gained a lot of support, it may be more challenging to have it removed.
An attorney can also identify issues with the petition and articulate why it would be in Change.org’s best interest to take it down. This approach can potentially save time and resources by preventing the need for legal proceedings.
Even though platforms like Change.org are generally protected under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, it does not mean they will not consider removal requests. An experienced attorney can appeal to the platform’s sense of responsibility and argue that allowing defamatory content goes against the platform’s intended purpose.
Send a Demand Letter to the Petitioner
A defamation retraction letter is a formal, written request you send to the person who has made false and harmful statements about you or your business. This letter serves two purposes: it asks the person to withdraw their statements and warns them about the legal problems they could face if they continue to spread defamatory information.
Sending a well-crafted retraction demand letter can sometimes resolve the issue without needing to take further legal action. This approach can save you a significant amount of time and money. Even if you end up having to take the matter to court, a defamation retraction demand letter can still be a valuable first step toward sorting out the problem.
File Suit to Compel the Removal of Content
When other options have failed, or are not feasible given the specifics of your matter, filing a defamation lawsuit can be an effective method to obtain a court order to compel the removal of the content and (potentially) recover damages for harm to your reputation or business. But it is essential to keep in mind that this should be your last resort, given that it can be both time-consuming and expensive.
If you do not know who created the defamatory petition, filing a John Doe lawsuit may be necessary to unmask the identity of an anonymous publisher. While some states have specific procedures for filing such a lawsuit, most do not. It is crucial not to make assumptions about who is responsible – instead, use the legal process to gather evidence so that by the time you name the defendant, you are confident of their identity.
Explore Your Options to Remove a Defamatory Petition from Change.org
At Minc Law, we understand how distressing it can be to be the target of a viral petition that is categorically false. We have extensive experience litigating defamation suits across the U.S. and the globe and have helped thousands of individuals and businesses to remove over 25,000 pieces of defamatory content from the internet.
We have proven success navigating the ins and outs of these complex and sensitive matters and mitigating damage caused by false online content – all without drawing further unwanted attention.
“Absolutely phenomenal. Michael took care of every single issue of defamation. I was concerned about wording because of the public nature of all parties involved, but Michael had open communication and approval from me all along the way. I will suggest him to absolutely anyone.”
June 21, 2022
If you would like to explore your legal options to remove a defamatory petition or other damaging content from the internet, reach out to schedule your initial consultation by calling (216) 373-7706, speaking with a Chat representative, or filling out our online contact form.