About a month ago, I said that the White House's "We The People" online petition site was "ensuring its legacy as a total joke." I know, that's pretty harsh. But at the time, it really looked like the experiment in active citizenship was going to burn out. When I made that statement, the site had a whopping 48 petitions that were sitting, unanswered by the White House.
That's not 48 total petitions. That was 48 petitions that had crossed the 25,000 signature threshold, meaning that by rule they warranted an official response from the White House. 48 (about half of them were crazy secession petitions). Since then, 2 of the 48 have received responses (and one had to do with building a Death Star).
It was abundantly clear that in order to survive and to retain any level of legitimacy, the site had to restructure its signature threshold to make it a little bit harder to garner enough signature to trigger an official response.
Thankfully, the White House has done just that. Starting today, new petitions must receive 100,000 signatures in 30 days in order to receive a response from the administration. That's up from the 25,000 that clearly wasn't working, and 20x what was originally required when the site first opened up in 2011.
"When we first raised the threshold — from 5,000 to 25,000 — we called it "a good problem to have." Turns out that "good problem" is only getting better, so we're making another adjustment to ensure we’re able to continue to give the most popular ideas the time they deserve. Starting today, as we move into a second term, petitions must receive 100,000 signatures in 30 days in order to receive an official response from the Obama Administration. This new threshold applies only to petitions created from this point forward and is not retroactively applied to ones that already exist," says Macon Phillips on the White House blog.
So does that mean the White House will be getting to work on those other 40+ petitions that deserve responses?
Anyway, this is the right move. The site is becoming way too big for a 25,000 threshold. It's probable that eventually, the 100,000 threshold will need to be adjusted. If you give people a voice, no matter how small it is, they usually take advantage of it.
The White House says that participation has grown significantly in just the past two months: 2.4 million new users, 73,000 petitions, and 4.9 million signatures. In two months.
Here's why the 25,000-signature threshold just wasn't working:
"In the first 10 months of 2012, it took an average of 18 days for a new petition to cross the 25,000-signature threshold. In the last two months of the year, that average time was cut in half to just 9 days, and most petitions that crossed the threshold collected 25,000 signatures within five days of their creation. More than 60 percent of the petitions to cross threshold in all of 2012 did so in the last two months of the year."
In total, the site has seen 9.1 million signatures on 141,000 petitions from 5.4 million users since its creation. Out of those 141,000 total petitions, 21 different agencies and departments have offered 162 official responses.