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Birds of a Feather Petition Together? Characterizing E-Petitioning Through the Lens of Platform Data

Information, Communication and Society, Forthcoming

29 Pages Posted: 7 Mar 2016 Last revised: 7 May 2016

Cornelius Puschmann

Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society

Marco T. Bastos

City University London - School of Social Sciences

Jan-Hinrik Schmidt

Hans-Bredow-Institute for Media Research

Date Written: March 1, 2016

Abstract

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 an 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 versus 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.

Keywords: petitioning, political participation online, behavioral data, content analysis

Suggested Citation

Puschmann, Cornelius and Bastos, Marco T. and Schmidt, Jan-Hinrik, Birds of a Feather Petition Together? Characterizing E-Petitioning Through the Lens of Platform Data (March 1, 2016). Information, Communication and Society, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2741795 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2741795

Cornelius Puschmann (Contact Author)

Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society ( email )

Französische Str. 9
Berlin, 10117
Germany
+49 30 2007 6082 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.hiig.de

Marco Toledo Bastos

City University London - School of Social Sciences ( email )

London
United Kingdom

Jan-Hinrik Schmidt

Hans-Bredow-Institute for Media Research ( email )

Rothenbaumchaussee 36
Hamburg, 20148
Germany

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