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White House raises threshold for online petitions to fend off Internet trolls

The White House is getting serious about online petitions.

In a way, you can’t really blame it. The original portal We The People, which allows anyone to create petitions on any subject to be shared and signed online – with those that reach or exceed a set number of digital signatures (originally 5,000, then raised to 25,000) receiving an official response from the Administration – launched in September, 2011 and has since become increasingly popular. Sample viral petitions include a demand that the President “officially recognize the Sasquatch as an indiginous species and have them lawfully protected by laws banning any hunting” or require that each state in the United States has its own Pokemon mascot. Just this weekend, the White House found itself offering a (hilarious) response to a demand that the U.S. look into building its own Death Star. Clearly, something had to be done.

“Starting today,” wrote Macon Philips, the Director of Digital Strategy for the Administration, in a post on the White House blog Wednesday “as we move into a second term, petitions must receive 100,000 signatures in 30 days in order to receive an official response from the Obama Administration. This new threshold applies only to petitions created from this point forward and is not retroactively applied to ones that already exist.”

The reason for this, he explained, was the dramatic uptick of people using the portal. “In the last two months of 2012, use of We the People more than doubled. In just that time roughly 2.4 million new users joined the system, 73,000 petitions were created and 4.9 million signatures were registered. As we’ve seen overall use skyrocket, more petitions are crossing the threshold — and doing so much more quickly.”

For the first ten months of 2012, Philips wrote, it took petitions an average of 18 days to reach the 25,000 signatures required for an official response from the White House. By the end of the year, that time had been cut in half, with most petitions that crossed that line doing so within five days of creation. Similarly, he went on, more than 60 percent of the petitions that crossed the 25,000 signature mark last year did so in those last two months of the year.

“It’s wonderful to see so many people using We the People to add their voices to important policy debates here in Washington and bring attention to issues that might not get the attention they deserve,” Philips said, pointing to metrics that suggest that the new threshold of 100,000 signatures – while four times the previous amount – is still an achievable number. To date, the highest number of signatures on any petition in the 30 day “live” period was 318,283, with petition receiving an average of 807 signatures per hour. Clearly, this democracy thing has some juice left in it in our wired world after all.