Online petitions program shows limited results

The petition program, We the People, created by the White House in 2011 to make a more open government, has only shown limited results.

“The White House promised to use the site to engage with the public and to issue responses to all petitions that reached a given number of signatures within 30 days of creation,” according to Pew.

This site is one of the most prominent legacies of open government, according to the Pew Research Center. Their study did not have a conclusive result of the effectiveness of the program. One petition created led to the construction of a law that allowed consumers to switch carriers, but maintain their phones. Another caused President Obama to switch his position on conversion therapy.

Heather Brewer, senior communication major, said she believes that online petitions are similar to passive activism. She said that they are common on the internet and are easy to sign, decreasing their value.

Brewer said that she believes it is almost lazy to create an online petition. She said there is also a chance that people are using fake names and some of the signatures could be invalidated.

Brewer said she thinks it would be better for people to go the extra mile and do a written petition because in the end they may receive more signatures.

Petitions involving more pop-culture have gone largely unanswered. “Several of the most popular petitions focused on small groups or international issues that did not necessarily gain much media attention or fall in the purview of the federal government,” according to Pew.

Madison Perkins said she thinks one of the reasosns online petitions are not too successful is because they social media distances people from the action.

Overall, the site has seen a decline in engagement. According to Pew, “The first days of the site were among the most active periods in its history. Only one other time period – beginning in late 2012 – featured more activity than the opening days.”

The White House has also changed the threshold for the amount of signatures that are needed to gain attention. At the beginning, they only required 5,000 signatures to receive a White House response. After 12 days, 44 percent of the petitions met this requirement, so the White House increased the threshold to 25,000 signatures, which decreased the petitions meeting the requirements to nine percent. Finally, in 2013, they increased the requirement to 100,000, causing only two percent of the petitions to reach the requirement.

“Increases in signature thresholds led to a major decline in the share of petitions meeting the requirement to receive a formal response,” according to Pew.