Social media has had an undeniable impact upon modern democracy. Whilst social platforms have enabled citizens to engage more with the government of their town and country, the movement has also given rise to charges of slacktavism, where the social media based engagement gives the illusion of involvement but little else.
The e-petition movement has arguably been at the centre of this, allowing citizens to create petitions around topics of their choosing and solicit support from their peers.
A new paper has set out to explore the world of online petitions, and to see how successful they’ve been at enhancing democracy.
What’s clear from the study is that petitions in themselves have had limited success. Across Europe for instance, it’s rare for a petition to get more than 10,000 signatories, with the vast majority falling some way short of the required amount to trigger a discussion of the petition in parliament.
Some have however achieved better results than others, and the paper suggests that this is the result of two main factors:
- That the act of creating and signing petitions is easy and straight forward
- By making the institution itself more open, transparent, accountable, effective, and responsive through the involvement of the public
Despite this however, the authors are keen to point out that whilst petitions have had moderate success, they have failed to bridge the divide between those already engaged politically, and those that are not. The high hopes that e–petitions will increase political participation of underrepresented groups in the petition process have not been fulfilled.
Is it enough to counter charges of slacktavism? I’m not sure I’m convinced yet, and areas such as the participatory budgeting in Porto Alegre, or even the civic crowdfunding platforms that are popping up around the world, offer much better avenues for directly engaging civilians in the process of government.