Origins and impacts of power users in e-democracy. The case of online petitioning

Online petitioning
By Jonathan Bright, Jean-Benoît Pilet, Thomas Soubiran, Sandra Bermudez

One of the most well-known characteristics of citizen participation websites (e-forums, online petitioning sites, etc.) is the highly unequal distribution of levels of engagement among users: while the majority of users participate very little, a small minority, often referred to as “power users,” contribute a great deal. This minority is understudied in the current body of research on participation in e-democracy; this article aims to fill this gap. Using a unique observational dataset on hundreds of thousands of people using an online petitions platform, we will show that the amount of free time, as well as the fact of having had a positive first contact with the site, are factors conditioning becoming a power user. We will also show that “power users” are more effective than regular users in their collective mobilization efforts, but that their interests differ considerably from those of the majority who use these sites less intensively. Overall, this means that these small groups have a powerful and distorting influence on these sites.

  • e-democracy
  • online petitioning
  • power users
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