Fake participation fatigue

Two items make a trend, right?

1. When the UK government hosted an international conference on cyber-security last week, commingling foreign ministers from all over with industry representatives and, daringly, Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales, it was the backdrop that struck me as incongruous:

Perhaps the organizers were under the impression that getting the #LondonCyber Twitter hashtag to trend would be a sufficient proxy for civil society participation in an otherwise closed talking shop. No doubt they anticipated the criticism, and some tech-savvy mandarin came up with the “Let them tweet hashtags” solution.

And never mind the audacity of David Cameron fishing for tweets so publicly just months after the London riots had him running to sacrifice social media at the altar of public security.

2. WhiteHouse.gov, in its zeal to embrace participatory media, now allows people to start petitions, promising an official response upon sufficient signatures. The problem is that these petitions do not lead to policy change, but to rote copy-paste responses that rehash the administration’s line (exhibit one and two).

That the following would happen is inevitable:

In case it disappears from the website, here is the petition text:

We demand a vapid, condescending, meaningless, politically safe response to this petition.
Since these petitions are ignored apart from an occasional patronizing and inane political statement amounting to nothing more than a condescending pat on the head, we the signers would enjoy having the illusion of success. Since no other outcome to this process seems possible, we demand that the White House immediately assign a junior staffer to compose a tame and vapid response to this petition, and never attempt to take any meaningful action on this or any other issue. We would also like a cookie.

Last I checked, over 10,000 had signed, with a goal of 25,000 looking well within reach.

Yes, people can and do set policy — via democratic elections and referenda. One day, the ability to vote online in binding elections or referenda will become commonplace. Until then, administrations who imply that participatory media lets citizens participate in anything more meaningful than government PR campaigns do so at the risk of being ridiculed. (h/t Felix)

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