GREEN BAY – The Internet can be a place for people to speak their mind – a place for dialogue and debate.
But it’s also a place for online petitions; what media experts call “slacktivism.”
“Online petition websites typically fall under the heading of slacktivism, which is the combination of the word slack or slacker and activism,” explained Mark Glantz, a communication and media studies professor at St. Norbert College. “In the absence of other modes of having an influence on government, online petitions can be pretty powerful, can help bring a community together, it can actually help create some change.”
The viral video of a Green Bay officer taking down and arresting a man outside a bar nearly two weeks ago is still a topic of debate. As the police investigation into that incident continues, that hasn’t stopped some from voicing their opinions. Particularly online – both supporting and condemning the officer.
Last week, FOX 11 first told you about several petitions that popped up since video of the incident surfaced.
Four online petitions FOX 11 uncovered revolve around Officer Derek Wicklund and the April 19 arrest of 29-year-old Joshua Wenzel.
Caught on cell phone video as bars were closing, Wenzel can be heard swearing at officers. Officer Wicklund then goes after Wenzel, pushing him into the hood of a squad car and onto the ground. Wenzel was arrested for resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.
One petition on change.org calls for Wicklund to be suspended and charged for his actions.
Three others FOX 11 found are on the website Care2.com. Two call for Wicklund to be congratulated and supported; the third anonymously-authored petition, calls for Wicklund’s removal altogether. It has more than 27,000 signatures.
Some signatures are from other states and countries.
Glantz says a petition authored anonymously can help foster unrestricted thought and discussion. But it can also lead to credibility issues.
“We don’t know who it is; we don’t know anything about them,” said Glantz. “It also, in other forms, can relate to people being unencumbered, you know, cyber-bullying, they’re willing to say and do anything because their name isn’t tied to it.”
FOX 11 was able to track down the petition’s anonymous author. We wanted to understand the reason for creating the petition and why it was done anonymously.
But the author refused to be recorded or reveal his identity. He says his intent isn’t to get Wicklund fired, but require behavior therapy.
There’s no indication any of the petitions will make an impact.
Calls to Green Bay Police Chief Tom Molitor and the police union for comment have not been returned.
Latching on to petitions with traction
“My team latches on to petitions that are getting some traction on their own,” explained Care2.com’s director of activism, Emily Logan in a phone interview with FOX 11.
Logan says the website’s purpose is to bring about change through an online community.
“With an issue like this, we’re really just trying to get as many people involved as possible,” said Logan.
The website’s official Twitter account tweeted four times in the last week calling for Wicklund’s job, linking to the anonymously authored petition with thousands of signatures.
Despite the department’s yet-to-be finished investigation into the incident.
So what petitions haven’t been tweeted out to the website’s 50,000-plus Twitter followers? The two that support Wicklund and his actions.
FOX 11’s Bill Miston asked Logan if the same type of promotion will be given to the petitions in support of Wicklund.
“We are pretty selective with which petitions which we choose to promote. This one…”
“Why?” FOX 11’s Bill Miston pressed.
“The lean of our audience is definitely in one direction,” Logan replied.
Glantz says a negative event is more likely to attract critics and online responses. And accompanying video only reinforces their belief that something’s not right.