Examining political mobilization of online communities through e-petitioning behavior in We the People

Big Data and Society 2 (2) (2015)
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This study aims to reveal patterns of e-petition co-signing behavior that are indicative of the political mobilization of online “communities”. We discuss the case of We the People, a US national experiment in the use of social media technology to enable users to propose and solicit support for policy suggestions to the White House. We apply Baumgartner and Jones's work on agenda setting and punctuated equilibrium, which suggests that policy issues may lie dormant for periods of time until some event triggers attention from the media, interest groups, and elected representatives. In the case study presented, we focus on 21 petitions initiated during the week after the Sandy Hook shooting in opposition to gun control or in support of policy proposals that are alternatives to gun control, which we view as mobilized efforts to maintain stability and equilibrium in a policy system threatening to change. Using market basket analysis and social network analysis we found a core group of petitions in the “support law-abiding gun owners” theme that were highly connected and four “communities” of e-petitioners mobilizing in opposition to change in gun control policies and in favor of alternative proposals.



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Feng Chen
Lawrence University

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