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Birds of a feather petition together? Characterizing e-petitioning through the lens of platform data.

Author: Puschmann, C., Bastos, M., & Schmidt, J-H.
Published in: Information, Communication & Society
Year: 2016
Type: Academic articles

E-petitioning platforms are increasingly popular in Western democracies and considered by some lawmakers and scholars to enhance citizen participation in political decision-making. In addition to social media and other channels for informal political communication, online petitioning is regarded as both a useful instrument to afford citizens a more important role in the political process and allow them to express support for issues which they find relevant. Building on existing pre-internet systems, e-petitioning websites are increasingly implemented to make it easier and faster to set up and sign petitions. However, little attention has so far been given to the relationship between different styles of usage and the causes supported by different groups of users. The functional difference between signing paper-based petitions vs. doing so online is especially notable with regard to users who sign large numbers of petitions. To characterize this relationship, we examine the intensity of user participation in the German Bundestag’s online petitioning platform through the lens of platform data collected over a period of five years, and conduct an analysis of highly active users and their political preferences. We find that users who sign just a single petition favor different policy areas than those who sign many petitions on a variety of issues. We conclude our analysis with observations on the potential of behavioral data for assessing the dynamics of online participation, and suggest that quantity (the number of signed petitions) and quality (favored policy areas) need more systematic joint assessment.

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