The dark side of crowdsourcing: Petitioners call for Catholic Church to be designated a “hate group”

Is the White House's hosted petitions website getting out of hand? Photo: Associated Press

HONOLULU, January 5, 2013 – The Obama Administration’s crowdsourcing initiative on the White House “We The People” website has drawn both noble and bizarre petitions alike, ranging from requests to honor firefighters with medals to calls for the deportation of Piers Morgan, and even the construction of a Death Star superlaser weapon. 

A new petition, created just last week on Christmas Day, calls for the Roman Catholic Church to be classified as a hate group, “as defined by both the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League,” and has amassed some 1,768 signatures.

The people already have Congress and their state legislatures to represent and deliberate over their petitions. (AP file photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

While it is highly unlikely that the Roman Catholic Church and its followers are in any risk of being labeled by the U.S. government as a hate group, the petition on the White House website points to the dark side of crowdsourcing and online microconstituent involvement in national politics. Such incendiary petitions often arouse more anger than meaningful policy discussion and tend to entrench bitterness between competing interests rather than ameliorate it.

Though the Obama Administration’s crowdsourcing experiment is a well-intentioned effort to increase involvement in democracy, the fact that the petitions are hosted (though not necessarily endorsed) on the official White House website presents an opportunity for groups to agitate, cyber-bully and accuse on a national and even international scale.

President Obama should seriously reconsider whether or not the ongoing hosting of petitions reflects positively on the Executive Branch and the United States. The Constitution already provides for the people to be represented by their representatives in the House and the states by the Senate. 

America’s founders were always concerned about the impact that inflamed public passions could have on the direction of public policy and the nation. James Madison wrote, “A popular Government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy, or perhaps both.”

The character and honor of the United States of America should be upheld at all times and not made an unwitting accomplice to the politics of agitation and strife. 

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Danny de Gracia

Dr. Danny de Gracia is a political scientist and a former senior adviser to the Human Services and International Affairs committees at the Hawaii State Legislature. From 2011-2013 he served as an elected municipal board member in Waipahu. As an expert in international relations theory, military policy, political psychology and economics, Danny has advised numerous policymakers and elected officials and his opinions have been featured worldwide. Now working on his first novel, Danny resides on the island of Oahu.

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