Together with the Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet und Society (HIIG), this project has tackled the topic of e-petitions. The object of investigation was the e-petition platform of the German Bundestag.
Petitions from citizens can be established on the e-petition platform of the German Bundestag
and then co-signed by other citizens wishing to support the matter. If, in this way, a petition reaches a quorum of 50,000 signatures within a certain period, the petitions committee has to consider its contents. Up to August 2012, co-signing an e-petition on this site was only possible under a person’s real name. Since then, an e-petition has also been able to be signed under a pseudonym.
Alongside the investigation of general patterns in submitters’ behaviour, the study is meant to provide particular insight into the issue of whether the introduction of the possibility for making anonymous submissions has led to an increase in them and what users of the platform think of this possibility. To this end, two empirical components were combined: firstly,the project team could assess a database provided in a pseudonymic form from the petitions platform. Secondly, an online questionnaire was carried out among the users of the platform and assessed.
We were able to confirm and extend a succession of insights from earlier studies, among them, for instance, a “spill-over” effect: popular petitions direct attention to the platform and this benefits other issues. By contrast, the findings on the shift to the pseudonymic possibilities for submitting are something new: it did not bring an increase in the lodging of submissions. However, in the meanwhile, around three quarters of all submissions operate under a pseudonym. This can be attributed above all to the fact that this setting is predetermined in the software – the study has thus also delivered indications of the directive power of “software default settings”.
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