MPs are to debate claims that “foreign citizens are taking all our benefits” and immigrants are “trying to change UK into a Muslim country” on October 19.
Any parliamentary petition signed by more than 100,000 people becomes eligible for debate. But are the 186,174 signatures collected genuine?
The petition first appeared on a thread on Democracy Forum on August 26. When the poster first promoted the petition it had just 8 signatures. A day later, thanks to social media spamming, the number hit 1,000 signatures. As one poster reflected: “It’s now been shared on a few USA sites so hopefully will get a few more signatories”.
By 7pm on August 27, the user who shared the petition wrote: “1400 is a reasonable number considering the petition is only 3 days old”.
On September 3, a forum post confirmed that the petition had hit 8,000 signatures. But is that rise a product of online spam? Hours before that post, an individual in a 4chan discussion advocating the racist spamming of a pro-refugee petition wrote: “Guys 5,000 nearly signed this petition to end immigration to UK GET IN HERE, AND USE THE FROGS GENERATOR”.
Two days later and a new thread promoted a similar tactic. At this point the petition stood at 54,512 signatures. One reply included “reminder that British zip codes are weird as fuck so if you’re looking to flood, use something like this:EC1A 1BB”. Others wrote “remember to use a throwaway email generator”.
The discussion grew more toxic and soon individuals began to share racist and antisemitic memes. On September 6, one poster wrote:
“Btw, quick explanation. I think ours was started by some kid out west, which is why the wording is so retarded. The jews’ petition had a two week headstart on ours, which is the reason why they have so many more sigs. But if you look at sigs per hour, we are getting almost double, which was true even before this thread. During the day, we’re getting like 1,500 an hour.
Stop allowing immigrants into the UK.
>336 signatures in the last hour
Accept more asylum seekers and increase support for refugee migrants in the UK.
>160 signatures in the last hour”
Anoter user replied:
“>HOW TO SIGN
for an instant email address >OUTSIDE OF UK? YOU CAN STILL VOTE
Just use this: http://www.doogal.co.uk/PostcodeGenerator.php
to generate a random post code, if you’re from UK just use your own, none of it is shown on the website.
Once it reaches a decent amount I will send an email into the daily mail and hopefully they’ll feature it, it’ll get the lefties spinning”.
Others directed links to websites that generate or list UK postcodes.
Media interest in the petition grew once it passed 100,000 signatures. BuzzFeed News interviewed its creator, 17-year-old Kieran Worrallo from Walsall in the West Midlands. He confirmed that the main statistic came from an internet page he could not verify. Nor did he evidence the wild claim about ‘Islamisation’.
The statistic originates from a 2013 Daily Express article headlined “EU: Britain will have 12 million more migrants by 2060“.
Labour MP Steve McCabe condemned the debate. He told the Birmingham Mail: “This highlights the problem with saying that if you have enough signatures on a petition then it will be debated. It is a licence for bigotry, and that is what we are witnessing here”.
It will include a speech from a government minister, from a Labour front-bench spokesperson, and also a spokesperson for the SNP. Backbench MPs are able to make speeches within the three hour slot in Westminster Hall.
Fraudulent signatures undermine the validity of parliamentary petitions.
The Petitions Committee have been approached for comment.
Update: The Petitions Committee responded:
“The new e-petitions site has been created to enable members of the public to petition the House of Commons and press for action from the government. Petitions should be signed by UK residents or British Citizens. We ask petitioners to confirm their details, including name, email address, and postcode. Much like the traditional paper petitioning system which asks people to provide an address and signature, the e-petitions system aims to strike a balance between allowing people to easily register their support for issues which are important to them, whilst discouraging dishonesty.
It is also worth pointing out that petitions are not automatically debated when they reach 100,000 signatures. The Petitions Committee meets weekly to consider each petition with over 100,000 signatures, before deciding whether to allocate a debate or not. This ensures that the issues put forward for debate are relevant, topical and have not been recently discussed in Parliament”.