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White House Petition Site Broken Since Inauguration Weekend

Variety logo Variety 2/3/2017 Janko Roettgers
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A petition to remove presidential advisor and former Breitbart CEO Steve Bannon from the National Security Council is currently gaining steam online, and is being retweeted by hundreds of Twitter users. However, you’d never know that this is a popular demand from looking at the petition itself: It’s been signed by only one person, according to the White House’s We the People petition website.

We the People aims to give ordinary citizens a forum to air their grievances by filing petitions, but the site has been partially inoperable ever since the inauguration weekend, Variety has found. Most notable, petitions filed after 1/22 don’t display any new signatures at all beyond the signature of the initial petitioner. Petitions filed on or before that date at times don’t seem to display new signatures for days.

The White House didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment. However, when BuzzFeed asked the White House earlier this week about irregular signature counts on the site, a spokesperson replied that “the signatures are being captured. Because of high volume they’re having to change how they’re being captured.”

We the People was created in 2011 by the Obama administration as a direct feedback channel for citizens. Anyone can take to the site to file a petition, and any petition reaching 100,000 signatures within 30 day is promised to receive an official response from the White House.

The site has seen an uptick in activity ever since Donald Trump’s inauguration last month. The most popular petition at the moment is one demanding that President Trump releases his tax returns. That petition reached 443,429 signatures Monday afternoon of this week, and grew to 476,151 signatures by Wednesday. 48 hours later, it was still stuck at 476,329 signatures.

Another petition demanding that Trump divests from his financial assets has also been stuck at around 150,000 signatures for two days after gaining significant support earlier this week.

It’s worth noting that the signature counter issues don’t necessarily mean that signatures aren’t in fact counted by the system. And former Obama administration digital strategist Macon Phillips told Buzzfeed that he didn’t think these issues were signs of active interference, but instead due to a technical issue.

We the People is probably best known for its less-than-serious petitions, like the one that forced President Obama to declare in 2013 that the U.S. government wouldn’t be building a death star any time soon. Still, the site has gotten a lot of internet users to participate in the democratic process. During its first two years alone, We the People saw more than 5 million users participating in more than 141,000 petitions.

Regardless of the reasons for the current issues, the fact that the site doesn’t work adds to an overall impression of a rocky transition, which extends to the new administration’s digital properties. Two weeks in, a number of links on the White House website still resolve in error messages, and the White House comment hotline remains inactive, redirecting users to a non-existent Facebook Messenger account instead.

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