The story of Ched Evans, a convicted rapist (but who maintains his own innocence), being signed to a football club following his release from jail has made headlines for a week now. On the face of it, and in many media outlets, the story has been debated as a moral/ethical one – has he served his time and therefore should be considered rehabilitated? Or, as footballers are often considered role models in this society, should clubs not sign a convicted rapist?
There is a more useful way this story could be viewed however – in the role of ‘pressure groups’, or, rather, ‘new social movements’ (NSMs). One of the key features of NSMs is their use of social media to spring into action quickly following the onset of an issue, and fade, often, equally as quickly. In this case, over 20,000 people signed a petition against Oldham Athletic signing Evans in a matter of only hours – one of the fastest-, if not the fastest-, ever growing online petition in the UK. Such public pressure has already led to other football clubs refusing to sign him, which could be used as evidence of groups putting pressure directly on bodies other than those of government. But the speed of this petition is a brilliant example of how the role of the internet has fundamentally changed the way those seeking change operate.
In the case of Evans, the story about him being signed was hinted at late last night and, 24 hours on, the board of Oldham Athletic have still yet to reach a decision. Whatever they do decide, they clearly are having to think about the impact of this petition.