The E-petition and politics in the 2000s

This is the Holy Grail of digital democracy, or e-democracy. Is there a space for electronic technology to impact political policy?

The load of political discussion with the help of electronic technologies, like the internet and computer/smartphones, are shaping political statements in an ever increasing way. News papers are digitalizing their paper versions and we are using social medias like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram like never before. These are making it possible for established actors in journalism and politics to have a more diversified discussion about political issues. At the same time, citizens can participate in the political discussion by having their own accounts where they can reach out with their thoughts and statements. This can in the long run lead to impacting the general understanding of an issue, much like advocay attempts through in the non-digital space such as seminars, conferences as well as protests in the streets. The interactive democracy was imagined in the 1970s when the phone could be seen revitalizing democracy and the contact with politics through voting on parties’ day programs and parliamentary candidates. The technology revolution has revitalized democracy and can be said to have been due to two things, partly the new type of mobile phone that many today have, a smartphone, but also the establishment of the large social media companies during the 2000s. Steve Jobs introduced the Apple Iphone 2007, Youtube came in 2005, Twitter and Facebook in 2006 and Instagram 2010. The use of the Internet for political purposes was particularly noted and perhaps for the first time in the world in 2008 when Obama won the US presidency, which experienced a “social media-driven political campaign” (The Guardian 081107). He was on Youtube, MySpace, Flickr, Twitter and Facebook (The Guardian 081110). During the 2010s, Twitter attracted particular attention with the Arab spring, but also with many political actors, such as the current American president, Donald Trump.

The trendy electronic technology, or ICT, Information communication technology, is the e-petition. It has, unlike social media and news papers, a direct link to the everyday citizens. The E-petition is a fairly new phenomenon and the first country in the world to introduce it was the UK in 2006, but with Malmö in Sweden closeby with its first e-petition in 2008. It exists in many countries around the world, and in the EU, it exists in all countries on national level except 7. EU (European Union) also has an e-petition of itself.

So what is it?

The e-petition originates from the petition that was used in England in 1215 when barons were given the right to submit complaints to the royal house without risking reprisals through Magna Charta, a treaty that meant that the King shared power, or let go of, with the citizens. It was also used successfully in the United States in the resistance to slavery in the 19th century but also in Sweden in 1913 for female (general) voting rights, when around 350,000 signatures were collected in support of the bill on the general voting rights that was decided in 1921. Petitions can be described as an attempt to influence, which means that an individual, or group of citizens, submits a political request to a decision-making body to perform a political action. As a form of participation, petitions can thus be described as influence attempts, as of adressing specific issues, demonstrating existing injustices or proposing concrete policy measures. Petitions mean that names are collected for one purpose and the names are today with the e-petition collected digitally.

E-petitions can be found on different levels in the society, such as local-, regional-, national- and supra national level. As was explained earlier, all countries in the EU except 7 has introduced e-petition on national level. Other countries are also New Zealand and USA. On local level it is more difficult to know what the extent is, but about 35 of 290 municpalities in Sweden has introduced them and the e-petition exist in all local regions in Norway. On supranational level you can find them in the EU thourgh its European Citizen Initiative. They all have different characteristics in terms of time limit, number of votes to be reached and design. But a common theme is that when a certain number of votes is reached, a political action is requested.

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