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United States

White House temporarily takes down ‘We the People’ petition site before responding to a single one

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 December, 2017, 9:49am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 December, 2017, 9:49am

The White House has taken down a popular online tool created by the Obama administration that allowed citizens to create online petitions, some of which required an official response.

All of the petitions, including one that called on President Donald Trump to release his tax returns – the most popular, with more than a million signatures – disappeared from Petitions. WhiteHouse. Gov as part of what a statement posted on the site said was part of a maintenance effort to improve its performance.

The statement said that the site as well as all of its existing petitions would be restored by the end of January.

“All existing petitions and associated signatures have been preserved and will be available when the site is relaunched,” the note said. “Following the site’s relaunch, petitions that have reached the required number of signatures will begin receiving responses.”

The site was launched by the Obama White House in 2011 as part of an effort to give citizens a resource to lobbying the government for legislation and other changes, however limited. It has been a subject of fascination for years, due to the varied and colourful nature of the many pleas on the site as well as the requirement that the White House respond when petitions receive more than 100,000 digital signatures.

“We the people” is a reference to the famous preamble of the US Constitution.

During the Obama years, respondents quickly learned the difference between a response and a reaction. A study done by the Pew Research Centre last year of 4,800 petitions on the site showed that many of those that received the most attention revolved around pop culture, including petitions to deport Justin Bieber, after a spate of bad behaviour on behalf of singer, build a Death Star from the movie Star Wars, and for then president Barack Obama to appear on Bill Maher’s HBO show.

“We’re glad you care about immigration issues,” the White House responded after the Bieber petition received more than 270,000 signatures. “Because our current system is broken. Too many employers game the system by hiring undocumented workers, and 11 million people are living in the shadows.”

Officials did not deport Bieber, of course.

Still, a small handful of the pleas did lead to tangible results, including those that resulted in a new law that ensured cellphone users could transfer their phones to another network, a White House call to end gay conversion therapy for minors and a Presidential Medal of Freedom awarded to former baseball player Yogi Berra.

The Obama White House was criticised for waiting two years to respond to a petition asking for a pardon of Edward Snowden after it had garnered 100,000 signatures. The answer? No. Multiple petitions, included one filed in the wake of the massacre at Newtown Elementary School in Connecticut, called on Congress to enact stricter gun control, drawing supportive responses from the White House, but little in the way of significant legislative action.

The Trump White House has not responded to any of the petitions that have circulated on the site since the president took office, many of which have taken a particularly grave tone.

Other popular petitions on the site this year included those calling on Trump to put his businesses and financial assets in a blind trust (356,000), asking for the anti-fascist organisation Antifa to be recognised as a terrorist organisation (366,000) and asking that the liberal financier George Soros also be declared a terrorist (152,000) and calling on Trump to resign (138,000).

The White House did not respond to an immediate request for comment.