The problem with 38 Degrees

A few years ago, I did something using the 38 Degrees website – I forget what exactly, but I think it was a handy form for an irritated letter to a politician. It was a Labour minister, which dates this!

Over the next few years, I got a series of emails from them, culminating in the point when I noticed with some surprise that they were referring to me as part of “their movement” and I unsubscribed with some irritation. It seems they’re still at it; looking at their website, we find the remarkable claim that they have over 2.5 million members (which would make them the third largest organisation in the country).

According to their FAQ:

The only requirement of membership is to take an action, as simple as signing a petition, or attending an event.

And looking at a recent petition (on a topic dear to my heart…) we find a very carefully prepared option: you can opt in to receiving emails from the organisation behind the campaign, but you are automatically signed up to be on the 38 Degrees mailing list. The note here says:

Your personal information will be kept private and held securely. By submitting information you are agreeing to 38 Degrees keeping you informed about campaigns and agree to the use of cookies. privacy policy

Note what it does and doesn’t say. So, the system runs like this:

  • you sign a petition;
  • you are automatically enrolled on a mailing list, with the stated aim of “keeping you informed about campaigns” (section 3(g) of the privacy statement).
  • you are automatically considered a member of an organisation, despite this appearing nowhere on the signup or privacy page.
  • this organisation then claims the legitimacy of “2.5 million members”

The only way to get out of being “a member” is to notice this and unsubscribe. I can’t help but feel there’s something fundamentally disingenuous about this approach, and it leaves me with a pretty bad taste in my mouth.

Update: it seems that (at least as of 2013) 38 Degrees do send welcome-to-the-movement emails. (They certainly didn’t in 2010). It’s something, I suppose, but it still feels insufficient.

4 thoughts on “The problem with 38 Degrees”

  1. Clicktivism.

    I also receive the 38 degrees emails; I suppose this makes me part of their “movement”, whatever that means.

    Generally getting tired of the breathless clickbaity subject lines – but yes, it was a useful tool for something, I can’t remember what. (emailing an MP sounds like something I might have done).

  2. Yes, that does feel pretty off. Obvious response, set up a clicky button on this website and see how many people join your movement just so they can comment :P

  3. PJ: I suppose my great concern is that one day they’ll shift into an ever-so-slightly more paternalistic mode, start assuming the small groups are representative of “the movement”, and announce that 2.5m past signatories have a coherent opinion on the NHS (we probably do), badger culling (we probably don’t), or forestry privatisation (goodness knows).

    It’s a temptation they’ve resisted so far, but this self-deceiving accounting of “members” can’t help but make it a growing one.

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