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[ NNSquad ] The White House Online Petition Joke Has Worn Thin

              The White House Online Petition Joke Has Worn Thin


Back at the beginning of September last year, when the White House
announced their upcoming "We the People" e-petition system to great
fanfare, it was heralded in many quarters as a shining example of
e-democracy in action, a force for the people to influence the federal
government in an organized and logical manner like none that had been
available previously.

I'll admit I was highly skeptical.  At the time, in "Worse than
useless award: White House launches 'e-petition' system," I declared
the project essentially a publicity stunt that would not actually
affect policy, but could be easily manipulated through its rudimentary
sign-up system -- it seemed obvious that it couldn't even provide
statistically meaningful polling data. ( http://j.mp/UvHZYM [Google+] )

It turns out I was not entirely correct.  The White House e-petition
system hasn't proven itself to only be useless, but to be something of
sick joke as well, making itself a global laughingstock on what seems
like an almost daily basis now.

There were early signs that this would be the case, when the focus of
petitions initially seemed to focus on drug legalization.  Think what
you will about the topic, it's obvious that almost any group can pull
together vast numbers of "signatures" (representing real people or
not) for such a petition, and it's also clear that its impact on
actual policy would be essentially zero.

The White House, which originally promised to respond promptly to
petitions once they crossed 5,000 "signatures" in 30 days, quickly
raised that threshold to 25,000, and then established a common modus
operandi of not responding to many petitions substantively for longer
periods -- even after that threshold was reached (indeed, they had
said they would respond, not exactly when they would respond).

But it's hard to blame them for such reticence to engage, given how
the petition system quickly spun off into the fodder for late night
comedians, as every interest group in the country organized tens of
thousands of their minions to sign an increasingly bizarre set of
petitions -- and that's not even counting the folks for whom the
entire petitions process was specifically for laughs.

So we've now seen "We the People" e-petitions gather large numbers of
signatures calling for Texas to be permitted to secede from the
nation, for the USA to build a "Death Star" like that from the "Star
Wars" film series, to deport CNN host Piers Morgan because he spoke
out forcefully in favor of gun regulations, and now to arrest NBC
"Meet the Press" host David Gregory because he showed on air (with
police permission) an empty 30 round ammo clip during an interview
that was generally seen to be embarrassing to NRA executive VP Wayne
LaPierre (the latter two petitions being pushed by fringe components
of the gun lobby, apparently).

But it's the White House that really should be embarrassed at this
point.  It's clear that the worst predictions about the petition
system have not only come true, but been far exceeded.

"We the People" has become a focal point for snarky jokesters and
pressure groups not to change policy, but rather to try capture media
attention.  Perhaps worse, when topics crucial to our future like the
gun policy debate are brought up in this context, we see that it's
done in ways that are so asinine that they don't actually advance the
meaningful arguments of anyone on either side of such complex matters.

Most of this ends up making the White House look like a willing
partner in the jokes, and the jokes just aren't funny anymore.  There
are too many important issues at stake.

As far as I'm concerned, there should be only one more White House
e-petition -- calling for the immediate shutdown of the "We the
People" petition system itself, and an end to what has become a
humiliating farce.

That's one e-petition I'd be willing to happily sign.

Lauren Weinstein (lauren@vortex.com): http://www.vortex.com/lauren 
Co-Founder: People For Internet Responsibility: http://www.pfir.org/pfir-info
 - Network Neutrality Squad: http://www.nnsquad.org 
 - PRIVACY Forum: http://www.vortex.com/privacy-info
 - Data Wisdom Explorers League: http://www.dwel.org
 - Global Coalition for Transparent Internet Performance: http://www.gctip.org
Member: ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy
Lauren's Blog: http://lauren.vortex.com
Google+: http://vortex.com/g+lauren / Twitter: http://vortex.com/t-lauren 
Tel: +1 (818) 225-2800 / Skype: vortex.com
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