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In the past few years, the Obama administration decided against building a Death Star, failed to update our country’s National Anthem to R. Kelly’s Ignition (Remix), and has yet to deport Justin Bieber. Worse still, our President has yet to create Jurassic National Park with actual cloned dinosaurs.
What is out government doing?
If you were unaware that the above issues were on the docket next to imposing sanctions against the Ukrainian president and preventing gay-segregation in Kansas, then you probably don’t spend a lot of time on We The People, home of White House petitions.
We The People was launched on September 22, 2011 as a way for Americans to communally voice their opinions about various political issues. Initially, anyone older than 13 could create a petition and any petition that received more than 5,000 signatures in 30 days would be reviewed by the administration and get a response.
However, with 313 million people living in our great nation, getting 5,000 signatures was easier than the White House thought. On January 13, 2013, the White House updated the requirements. A petition must receive 150 signatures in 30 days to become searchable on whitehouse.gov, and if the petition garners 100,000 signatures in the following 30 days then the administration will respond.
Shortly after the initial launch, J.H. Snider wrote a piece for the Huffington Post outlining why the petition site is doomed to fail.
The interests of the public and elected officials differ. The public is inclined to ask politicians to take controversial stands that politicians have no rational self-interest in taking.
Basically, the site is full of controversial issues that the White House can’t or won’t comment on, and doing so would step on the toes of local government, Congress, or the private sector. Recently, as the popularity of We The People has grown, these ‘untouchable’ issues have been forced to share white space with ridiculous petitions like, “Designate May 20th as Macho Man Randy Savage Day.”
This article was inspired by the White House petition to bring Flappy Bird back to the App Store. Does the Federal Government need to get involved in a private tech company’s decision to remove a product that Americans loved for less than a week? Not really.
Creating and spreading petitions through We The People and other petition sites like Change.org has become exponentially easier because of the Internet. No longer does a cause require hundreds of people taking to the streets and flagging down passersby for signatures. Now people can sign with just an email address and share the petition with all of their friends through social channels.
Online petitions don’t have the teeth that physical petitions have because their value lies in raising awareness. People who are passionate about a cause can come together in a forum and talk about it and spread their message with their outer networks. People who discover new issues will become better informed about them and might take action in more effective ways than adding their emails to online lists. The value is in the sharability and increased awareness – it’s the same method that Instagram uses to measure campaign success.
I’d like to see marketers start to take advantage of online petitions. Like Pizza Hut’s use of OKCupid as a marketing platform, different organizations could use petition sites to spread their messages.
Non-profit organizations in particular could win with online petitions. One petition on We The People that should be covered in branding asks President Obama to condemn Japan’s annual slaughter of dolphins, where the ocean turns red from all of the floating corpses. The top representatives from PETA and Greenpeace could easily have their names in the body of that petition. Ocearch could start a petition asking for further protections and limits on shark fishing.
Unfortunately, the devolution of We The People and steady increase in ridiculous petitions could lead brands to start posting petitions like, “Ask McDonalds to Reveal the Recipe to their Secret Sauce,” created by a McDonalds PR exec under a persona, or “Make Left Twix Match the Caramel Covering Style of Right Twix.” The moment these petitions start floating to the surface is when the Obama administration will throw in the towel on We The People.
While online petitions are good in theory, they’ve completely lost their effectiveness as a voice for the people. Instead, they’re a social awareness tool and forums for like-minded individuals. It will be interesting to see how We The People evolves during the rest of President Obama’s term and under whoever works in the Oval Office next.