Tech

No, Signatures On The White House Petition Site Aren’t Intentionally Frozen

“I think the team there is still trying to get their heads around how it works.”

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You may have seen stories going around questioning whether the Trump administration has frozen the signatures on certain initiatives on the We The People petition platform. That’s likely not the case.

President Obama’s administration created We The People in 2011 as a way for citizens to communicate with the White House about issues that mattered to them. The platform allows anyone to start a petition that others can digitally sign to show their support, and Obama’s White House said it would respond to any petition that received 100,000 signatures within 30 days. That clause is still part of the “about” page on We The People, though whether the Trump administration will respond to petitions is unconfirmed. On the day of his inauguration, Trump’s administration archived all existing petitions on the platform.

Right now, though, We The People seems to be barely registering some signatures. A petition titled “Preserve the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities” only had 96 signatures at press time, despite accruing hundreds of shares on Twitter alone. (The president is expected to cut funding for the NEA and NEH dramatically.) Another petition for a similar cause has showed a relatively static number of signatures, despite a continuing high volume of social shares. It is possible that the similarity of these petitions is spreading signatures thinly between them, though another petition about something entirely different shared widely on Twitter also has only one signature.

Trump’s administration seemed to acknowledge that something was wrong with the website, but denied it had intentionally stalled the platform. A spokesperson for the White House told BuzzFeed News, “It’s a question of high volume at the end of the day, but the signatures are being captured. Because of high volume they’re having to change how they’re being captured.” The spokesperson did not elaborate on what that change would entail.

Some of the shortened URLs that appear in shared social media posts for petitions have recently been leading to broken webpages, which also may be affecting the petitions’ signature counts.

Macon Phillips, who served as Obama’s coordinator of International Information Programs, oversaw the creation We The People. In response to questions about how slowly the site seems to be counting signatures, he told BuzzFeed News he didn’t think it was intentional interference by Trump’s administration. “The system doesn’t really allow you to make it behave that way. It seems like more of a caching issue. I think the team there is still trying to get their heads around how it works,” he said. President Trump has appointed a new acting director of International Information Programs, Jonathan Henick, who did not immediately respond to request for comment.

The number of signatures on a few other petitions also indicate that the administration is not suppressing signature counts on We The People. Two petitions on the site, “Immediately release Donald Trump’s full tax returns, with all information needed to verify emoluments clause compliance,” and “Divest or put in a blind trust all of the President’s business and financial assets,” have reached 372,520 and 114,924 signatures, respectively, at press time. White House spokesperson Kellyanne Conway responded to the tax returns petition on TV recently, at least indirectly — at first, she refused to release the returns, but then later walked back on that refusal.

This is the latest development in the Trump administration’s tech struggles. Earlier this week, it was discovered that the @POTUS official Twitter account was tied to a Gmail address. The account registration was changed after journalists flagged the registration on Twitter.

Adrian Carrasquillo contributed to this report.






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Blake Montgomery is a reporter with BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco.
Contact Blake Montgomery at blake.montgomery@buzzfeed.com.
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