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Stats Government United States Politics

Mostly Theater? Taking Aim At White House 'We the People' Petitions 68

theodp writes: "Since we launched We the People in 2011," wrote the White House last month, "millions of Americans have engaged with their government on the issues that matter to them. This groundbreaking online platform has made petitioning the government, a First Amendment right, more accessible than ever. Over the past few years, the Obama administration has taken a stance on a number of causes that citizens really care about and used the We the People petition platform to voice their concerns." Sounds good, but even if the White House is listening to We the People petitions, as it assured skeptics, one wonders what — and who — exactly they are listening to. Petitions suffer from being aye-only, lack identity and location verification, and appear to have other data quality issues. One attempting to explore the petition data for the 67,022-and-counting signers of a new petition urging a quick response to a court decision that could cut the time international STEM students can work in the U.S. on student visas after graduation, for example, would be stymied by thousands of missing and non-U.S. postal codes. Plotting what location info is available does show that the petitioners are clustered around tech and university hubs, hardly a surprise, but it sheds no context on whether these represent corporate, university, and/or international student interests.
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Mostly Theater? Taking Aim At White House 'We the People' Petitions

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 24, 2015 @07:21AM (#50379011)

    Just like the "Change!" he promised us ...
     
    Just like the "Universal Insurance" he promised us ...
     
    Just like so many other lies that he has told us ...
     
    How can anyone treat that "petition' thing seriously?

    • by NotDrWho ( 3543773 ) on Monday August 24, 2015 @08:03AM (#50379231)

      A politician lying to get elected?!?!?? HOLY SHIT! Has someone alerted the press to this???

    • by Chas ( 5144 )

      This is where the message of "Yes. We can!" became "No. We can't!"

      Translation: of COURSE it's merely political theater.

      Online petitions have ALWAYS been worthless. As they're infinitely easy to merely ignore or just say "No" to.

  • by sycodon ( 149926 ) on Monday August 24, 2015 @07:26AM (#50379037)

    Did anyone ever think it was anything other than Theater?

    Really? You thought that???

    Facepalm!

    • Errrr

        HOPE AND CHANGE

      Yeah!! ,Dats da ticket

    • by NotDrWho ( 3543773 ) on Monday August 24, 2015 @08:07AM (#50379253)

      Exactly. The only voices that really get "heard" in Washington are those that come with the gift of big campaign contributions or with the threat of a lot of bad PR. It's been that way pretty much since the beginning, though it's gotten a LOT worse more recently (with the rise of huge megacorporations, rising campaign costs, and the effective removal of all restrictions on campaign contributions).

    • Better watch out your going to be called a racist for repeating the same thinking that commentator on FoxNews had when the site first came out.
    • Similar with the UK e-petitions scheme [parliament.uk]. The top two are (with 200k+ signatures each and 'awaiting a debate in parliament) are for general hate of one guy from the cabinet and to legalize cannabis. I think everybody has realized that anything they do not actually want to acknowledge will just go into limbo or will get a response that just avoids the issues.
    • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Monday August 24, 2015 @08:51AM (#50379603) Homepage Journal

      Well, as a software designer I learned two lessons about clients that are probably relevant to how politicians deal with constituents:

      (1) Clients seldom know what they want precisely enough to do anything about, and when they do have precise ideas they're usually bad.

      (2) It's really critical to listen to what clients think they want.

      Call it "theater" if you will, but it's really naive to think the petition thing is supposed to be some kind of exercise in direct democracy. It's not. It's an exercise in constituent relations.

      • by digsbo ( 1292334 ) on Monday August 24, 2015 @10:48AM (#50380509)

        It's an exercise in constituent relations.

        Given that almost everybody is now calling it theater, would you say it had a positive impact on constituent relations?

        • by hey! ( 33014 )

          Given that almost everybody is now calling it theater, would you say it had a positive impact on constituent relations?

          I'd be shocked if "almost everybody" had even heard of it, much less absorbed the impression you suggest.

    • by Qzukk ( 229616 )

      No, but now that the government has established the proper channel for petitioning the government for a redress of grievances, you can stop suing the government in court over infringed rights. Just post your petition online and sit back while it's soundly ignored.

  • by rickb928 ( 945187 ) on Monday August 24, 2015 @07:27AM (#50379039) Homepage Journal

    "lack identity and location verification, and appear to have other data quality issues. One attempting to explore the petition data for the 67,022-and-counting signers of a new petition urging a quick response to a court decision that could cut the time international STEM students can work in the U.S. on student visas after graduation, for example, would be stymied by thousands of missing and non-U.S. postal codes."

    Gee, sounds like Obama's campaign finance reports.

    Before you mod this down, do sooner of your own reading on this. If you dare.

  • by ohnocitizen ( 1951674 ) on Monday August 24, 2015 @07:33AM (#50379077)
    Ignore all the comments going "this was expected" or "did you expect anything else"? Those add nothing to the discussion and are worthless. This isn't about whether you support Obama across all of his actions and positions. It is about this specific tool, its problems in its current incarnation, and its promise. I'm disappointed the White House has ignored so many petitions, and the lack of data/flexibility in response is something worth exploring. Imagine a more robust and secure version of this tool, and one that the White House responded more vigorously to. Or one that Congress responded to. I'd love to see it. I'd love to see us move closer to Democracy by putting more power in the hands of regular citizens. Let's talk about how to make that happen.
    • Well, it's great news that a suggestion box exists at all, frankly, which (at the very least) means the overseers believe our views are still freely given and received.

      It's our job as holders of the ballot to right the ship; to make certain the nation's leadership is representative enough to actually read the focking suggestions.

      6 years is all the time it takes to clean out the lot of executive and legislative branches.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        And that illusion is why the petition system was added. By giving people with your mindset the illusion that someone actually cared what you petitioned.

        No one in the leadership read anything on that site. Low paid interns read them, low rung staffers wrote replies, not-quite-so-low rung staffers proofread them, and still-fairly-low rung staffers oversaw the whole thing.

        But the site worked, a generation of simple-minded idealists didn't realize they were being played the same way their cynical predecessors

      • by Sarten-X ( 1102295 ) on Monday August 24, 2015 @08:16AM (#50379331) Homepage

        Precisely.

        The First Amendment guarantees the right to petition the government, but it does not guarantee that you'll get your way or even that your concerns will be considered important.

        Frankly, that's a good thing. There have been a number of petitions asking the executive branch to effectively suspend rule of law and interfere with court cases. There have been a lot of petitions seeking to jeopardize foreign relations, and a good number simply asking for the impossible.

        To expect petitions to require a change opens the country up to tyranny of the majority. Sure, the population will get the near-sighted quick fixes it wants, but the longer-term costs will typically not be considered until long after the right time to fix them.

    • by argStyopa ( 232550 ) on Monday August 24, 2015 @08:38AM (#50379493) Journal

      "Those add nothing to the discussion and are worthless."
      No, because opportunity costs are a thing.
      Having a fanciful belief that something works leads to a lot of wasted effort and energy that could be more usefully guided toward something that is accomplishable.

      Oh, re your point about "move closer to Democracy"? You realize that as recently as 2011, "democracy" would have cheerfully banned gay marriage?
      http://www.pewforum.org/2015/0... [pewforum.org]
      Understand that "democracy" isn't a bunch of enlightened hipsters with progressive views deciding policy around their non-dairy lattes. Democracy can be ugly, reactionary, and easily manipulated.

      • by digsbo ( 1292334 )

        Understand that "democracy" isn't a bunch of enlightened hipsters with progressive views deciding policy

        There are enlightened hipsters?

    • It only has impact if the politicians decide that it should have impact. Since they don't care, it is a waste of time. There is zero consequence for them when they ignore high profile petitions. This is great for them, because they can simply ignore anything inconvenient or uncomfortable, and then pounce on something that will give them some easy PR points.

      The only tool that we have that politicians respond to is the election process. That, aside from the rare criminal investigation, is the only way we can

    • > I'm disappointed the White House has ignored so many petitions ...

      There hasn't been action or even acknowledgement of many petitions. But how do we know that they are being ignored? Put your name on the wrong petition, you might put yourself on a list.

      • This is a serious concern as well.

        The government is, by its very nature, a political animal and has recent events have shown, the People In Power will use the government to target dissenters. The IRS is a perfect example of this (and the use of the IRS as a weapon goes far beyond the targeting of conservative groups from a few years ago). Combined with the extensive data mining and collection the Alphabet Soup is allowed to do (or does anyway, even if it isn't technically allowed to do so), the government i

    • by fche ( 36607 )

      " by putting more power in the hands of regular citizens"

      You do that by freeing the regular citizens from others' power: that is by weakening the powers of the state.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Petitions suffer from being aye-only, lack identity and location verification, and appear to have other data quality issues.

    I don't think they suffer from lacking identity and location verification. The last thing I want is to have my name and address attached to a "bad opinion."

  • by GuB-42 ( 2483988 ) on Monday August 24, 2015 @07:38AM (#50379109)

    The petitions only require the government to provide an answer to the question. Nowere it is stated that they must change their plans in any way.
    In other words "fuck you" is a totally valid answer.

  • It is a petiotion (Score:5, Insightful)

    by houghi ( 78078 ) on Monday August 24, 2015 @08:03AM (#50379227)

    Petion : a formal written request, typically one signed by many people, appealing to authority in respect of a particular cause.

    It is a petition. That means they do not mean change or even investigation. It just measures interest.

    In a company they can hold a petition and people all (100%) want to have more pay.Some (20%) want to have a dedicated smoking area.
    They do not respond to the first one; and do repond to the second one and even do it.

    To me petitions are ALWAYS flawed as they do not mean anything. With the smokers: only 20% wanted a dedicated smoking area. What did the 80% want?

    Where do you sign if you are not in favour of the petition? Not that I am in favour or against, but if I am not even given the ability to do that, whatr does it mean? It means that petitions are not votes.

    They are just a measurement tool of interest and that is all. They do not mean anything else beyond that and if you do not understand what a petition is, why are you writing your name on it?

  • If I sign a petition, I don't expect to have to give my demographic information, or whom I work for, etc.

    .
    The petition is not law. The petition merely draws more appropriate attention to a matter. Whether anything is done about that matter is up to the governing processes.

    Something does not have to be done just because there is a petition in favor of it. Just as something does not have to be done just because you write a letter to your representative in Congress.

  • "Petitions suffer from being aye-only, lack identity and location verification, and appear to have other data quality issues.". Sounds like we could have avoided wasting taxpayers money and just posted these on facebook. Facebook suffers from the same things.
  • by Errol backfiring ( 1280012 ) on Monday August 24, 2015 @08:14AM (#50379307) Journal

    Dear Sir,

    You are violating Betteridge's law of headlines. Please stop doing that.

    Regards,

    Errol

    • by sconeu ( 64226 )

      No, he's not. He's asking "Mostly Theater?"

      The correct answer is, in fact, No. It is COMPLETELY theater.

  • Why? No compulsion. what we need are national referendums... not petitions.

    The difference is that a referendum would carry the weight of law. It would force the government to comply... ideally every law must include an "or else" clause. All good laws have them. Its where punishments are specified for violation.

    For a referendum system to work, you'd need a national ID system though. Otherwise script kiddies in Russia are going to make Tuesday Silly Hat day in the US.

  • I remember the teleprompter-in-chief chortling when some press lackey asked him about the leading petition on that site, which called for legalizing medical marijuana. Motherfucker just laughed it off, never mind what he'd said about it during his campaign.

    -jcr

  • by natbrooks ( 465129 ) on Monday August 24, 2015 @09:27AM (#50379861)

    https://xkcd.com/1138/ [xkcd.com]

    Because petitioners tend to be people, and people (oddly enough) cluster around regions of high population density.

    • by theodp ( 442580 )

      Like Kingsville, TX (534 signers)?
      More detail here [tableau.com], which (you're right) should have been linked to in the submission instead of just the static image. My bad.

  • by Chris Mattern ( 191822 ) on Monday August 24, 2015 @09:48AM (#50380017)

    It couldn't be anything other than theater. I can demonstrate why it has to be theater with one example of where this concept is actually implemented: Twitch Plays Pokemon.

  • consider this very popular call to action because it doesn't suit our political goals. Meanwhile we'll take this less popular goal, and tout how great it is to have this great tool to help promote our favorite causes"

    "We the People" is useless, unless it is binding to some degree. And it isn't. It is just a means for Obama (and future presidents) to legitimize pet causes, while ignoring others with equal or greater participation.

    In short, it is a great propaganda tool. Nothing more, nothing less.

  • Internet Petitions aren't worth the paper they're written on.

  • I remember how excited people were when this came out. Then those first couple of petitions went through and the response from the government was reliably more or less "Oh, we understand that you want that, and it sure does sounds neat, but we're not going to do that. Really though, super appreciate the input! TTFN!"

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