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.