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Those broken White House petitions are due to incompetence, not evil

(Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

There’s an old aphorism called Hanlon’s Razor, which goes something like this: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. (It’s not a reassuring aphorism, admittedly, but it does at least vary up our different types of despair.) And that old bit of wisdom might explain why the White House’s We The People petition site has been acting so strangely, according to one of the people who helped administer it for President Barack Obama.

The We The People site was devised by the Obama administration, with a pretty simple rule: If a petition accrues 100,000 signatures, the White House has to address it in some way. (Even if that way is simply saying, “No.”) But observers have noticed that the signature-counting has become wildly inaccurate since Donald Trump took office, with counts on calls for the NEA and NEH to be saved (or calls for Trump to explain why he’s “a needy little bitch”) failing to reflect the number of people who’ve said they’ve signed the petitions. The assumption on many people’s parts was that the site was intentionally being sabotaged by Trump’s team.


Not so, according to a new piece from BuzzFeed News today. BuzzFeed talked to Macon Philips, Obama’s coordinator of International Information Programs, who oversaw the We The People site, about whether the blockages are intentional. “The system doesn’t really allow you to make it behave that way,” Macon said, suggesting the counting problems were an unresolved technical issue. “It seems like more of a caching issue. I think the team there is still trying to get their heads around how it works.” The White House said something to a similar effect, telling BuzzFeed that “It’s a question of high volume at the end of the day, but the signatures are being captured. Because of high volume they’re having to change how they’re being captured.” It’s not clear how the process is being changed by Trump staff, though, or whether any of the White House’s IT staff are racing so that people can start formally requesting that the president show his tax returns or divest his business interests again. (After all, there’s a reason that there’s a corollary to Hanlon’s Razor that adds “don’t rule malice out” onto its end.)

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