A while back the Obama administration, in a wild fit of optimism, created We the People, an online forum where any citizen can petition the government on a question, and if sufficient people sign the petition they’ll get a response. Great idea, right? Government needs to be more open and responsive, and this is open to all. It’s a form of crowdsourcing, where citizens with common cause can directly engage with elected officials.
Turns out, the idea is great in theory and absurd in
practice, much like crowdsourcing itself. Within weeks of launching We the People petitioners from
50 states were asking to secede from the union, and a petition to build
a Star Wars’ Death Star attracted over 34,000 signatures (but was regrettably
turned down). The Brit CNN talk show host Piers Morgan, a fierce gun control
advocate, was quickly the subject of a petition to have him deported. In
response to all this nonsense the White House raised the threshold for getting
a response from 25,000 to 100,000 signatures, a move only likely to encourage
the crackpots and fringe dwellers even further. The UK governments’ e-petitions
site has a 100,000 signature threshold, and still gets petitions
attempting to save chocolate bars.
Opening the opinion floodgates is admirable, but we forget
that those of us with moderate views are labeled the “silent majority” for a
good reason. It’s not that we’re lazy, though that could be true, but that the frenzied extremists are the people who are always going to exert themselves the
most. If you doubt me, take a look at the comments on any online
coverage about the Obama administrations recent efforts to enact gun control
legislation – the ferocity of opinion is itself a great argument for keeping
kitchen utensils out of the hands of most Americans, never mind semi-automatic
Crowdsourcing is a dangerous myth. The wisdom of the crowd
is far too easily drowned out by the madness of the masses.