In September 2011, The Obama administration released an online project called “We the People”, an easy to use web-based petitioning system that allows anyone over the age of 13 to create or sign a petition for action by the federal government. If online petitions receive enough signatures, they become searchable on the website, and if a second threshold for number of signatures is passed, members of the White House staff will actually issue an official response. The goal is to “help the White House understand the view of the American people and have a focused and civil conversation with them” (https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/).
With the Presidential election coming up in November, understanding the issues Americans care about is key. Topsy’s platform can discover more information than simply the number of signatures of an online petition by monitoring how the petition ideas are spread from person to person on the social Web. Which links to petitions have proven to be the most popular? During what timeframes does this occur? Do real world events substantially influence whether or not a particular petition forms and becomes popular on the social web?
With fast analyses from Topsy’s analytics interface, these questions can be answered. Seen below is a quick screenshot of the 5 most-mentioned petition links on Twitter since the beginning of “We the People”:
Diving a bit deeper into the link analyses, below is another screenshot showing the trendline for mentions of the petition regarding the arrest and detention of singer D. Randall Blythe, taken into custody in Prague late June 2012. As seen in the graph, the number of mentions of the petition spiked in mid-July, just a few weeks after the incident occurred:
Through the social Web, even issues that might normally remain somewhat obscure (e.g., the affairs of a heavy-metal singer in Prague) can now be exposed to many. By including a “share by tweet” button on each petition, the White House has harnessed the power of Twitter to amplify and spread these ideas. Petitions.whitehouse.gov has greatly increased the level of engagement between the American people and their government, and such an accessible form of interactivity demonstrates how democracy has evolved to fit the modern era.