The White House Says “We the People” Petitions Don’t Fall on Deaf Ears [Video]

    March 23, 2012
    Jonathan Fisher
    Comments are off for this post.

Some people bemoan the seeming superficiality rampant on the internet (I’m often one of these people, to tell you the truth). Others fight an ongoing struggle against bills like SOPA, ACTA, C-11, and others that attempt to wrest digital freedom and privacy from individuals and put it in the hands of corporations and governments. (I’m often one of these people, too.) But beyond giving us things like Nyan Cat and Farmville, the Internet can also provide us remarkable tools to help promote dialogue and transparency between citizens and their governments. For instance, you might choose to tweet your concerns to your elected representatives, or if you’re the UK, you appoint Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales to an advisory role on transparency.

Even the White House has gotten in on the action, with a variety of programs under its Open Government Initiative. One such program that went live last September, We the People encourages American citizens to engage the White House on issues that matter to them. Anyone over the age of 13 can participate by signing up for a free whitehouse.gov account and creating a petition about a particular issue or policy. Petitions that get over 150 signatures are searchable on the White House website, and petitions reaching a threshold of 25,000 signatures within 30 days receive an official response from a member of the Obama administration.

It sounds like a good idea, but the program has received a fair bit of criticism, largely for the perceived boilerplate and disingenuous statements issued by the administration in response to some petitions. Many people feel the program strives more for the appearance of an attentive government than it does promote a truly interactive government.

But the White House is listening, it says. At the very least it’s listening enough to hear these criticisms. In response to such criticisms, the Office of Digital Strategy uploaded this video to the White House’s official YouTube channel yesterday. The video claims that successful petitions submitted via We the People actually do reach key policymakers and influence administrative decisions.

Have you submitted or signed a petition through the We the People program? Do you feel the White House is really listening to concerns submitted to it through the service, or through other elements of the Open Government Initiative? Let us know in the comments.

[Via Mashable]
  • Anon

    After watching the video, their intent for the program is disturbingly clear:

    They are trying to redefine the use of a petition from a demand for government action to a demand for a response.

    This may seem like a small change, it is an attempt to remove the impact of these petitions, by establishing a habit of not acting on them. Traditionally, a petition has served as a hard demand, wherein the signers usually will withdraw support from, or actively support the opponents of someone who rejects their petition.

    The threshold for requiring a response is new. Having watched a few of these petitions reach this threshold, it is quite interesting how quickly the number of signers drops off. This means that the number of signers stays just about the threshold level, which keeps the pressure to generate a meaningful action down.

    Additionally, the regarding of the petitions as a source of ideas, while sounding nice, provides for the dismissal of petitions that actually touch on the important controversial decisions. This dismissal prevents, to some degree, petitioners from being able to weigh in on these important matters.

    Finally, we have the extra effect of having an “approved” alternative that is tightly controlled. The White House could easily use a redirect to this process to stifle of channels over which they can exercise less control.

    Speaking from a design perspective, the system is actually quite elegant, assuming its purpose is to shield against controversial or unwanted petitions. Speaking as a citizen of the United States, I reiterate that I find the message they are sending us incredibly disturbing.