Some call it ‘clicktivism’, others ‘slacktivism’. But there’s no denying online petition websites carry clout.
More that 4.4 million Australians – or roughly on in six of us – have either started or signed a petition via Change.org alone, and in the process have played a part in persuading politicians, corporations and changemakers to act upon the issues close to our hearts.
The website was launched in the US in 2007, but the first major local cause was launched in late 2011 by a Melbourne law graduate named Emily Hehir – a cause that was confirmed victorious five years ago this week.
This was what started it all:
“Fat s**g… You’re a piece of sh*t… You haven’t got that much titty to be wearing that low-cut a blouse. Watch your mouth, girl, or I will hunt you down.”
The vile words were uttered by none other than then-2Day FM radio host Kyle Sandilands about a News Ltd. journalist who had reported on the poor ratings of his 2011 TV special, Kyle and Jackie O: A Night with the Stars.
An avalanche of criticism followed and Hehir was at the front.
"Help ensure Sandilands can't get away with this vile behaviour again," her petition urged.
"Help me call on 2Day FM sponsors to pull out of advertising until Sandilands is dumped."
And so they did.
Encouraged by the more than 35,000 signatures, Holden was the first to pull out, followed by 60 others including Mazda, Ford, Mitsubishi, McDonald's, Vodafone, Telstra and Blackmores.
According to Fairfax Media, the backlash was estimated to drill a $10 million hole in Southern Cross Austereo's revenue.
As Hehir wrote for Mamamia at the time, rather than simply serving to punish the radio shock jock, the scandal also served as an opportunity to spark conversations about the narrow representation of women in the media and challenge them to do better.
"We have a responsibility to demand more from the media – if not for ourselves then for the younger women watching and listening – and challenge the attitudes that underpin the content on our airwaves," she wrote.
"Attitudes that lead to a man thinking it is legitimate to pass judgment on national radio on the worth of a woman’s opinion based on her ‘titty’."
Sandilands eventually conceded via an open letter of apology.
Controversy-courting radio host Kyle Sandilands showed his softer side in this interview.
"I took my remarks too far and for that – and the offence caused to [journalist] Alison Stephenson and those exposed to my comments – I sincerely apologise,” he said.
“I regret the impact this has had on our clients and our hard-working staff, who have had to weather a storm of criticism in the media and on social networks.
"I regret that so many had to bear the brunt of my actions."
Without Hehir's petition, this may have been yet another example of sexism, of bullying and degradation that would spend a day - maybe two - in the headlines before slipping away unchecked.