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"Birthers" Fouling OpenGovt Interactive Site

BY Micah L. Sifry | Monday, June 1 2009

Right now, the Open Government Dialogue created as part of the Obama administration's new initiative to engage the public in a participatory discussion of ways to make the federal government more transparent and collaborative looks like it is being overrun by the so-called "birthers"--conspiracy nuts who think the President isn't legitimately a U.S. citizen. Here's a screenshot of recent tweets from @ogovbrainstorm, which automatically shows which ideas have recently gotten 20 positive votes or more:

The site also appears to have experienced a big jump in users and comments in the last few days, which may be coincidental or a sign that more people are hearing about it randomly, but also a possible sign of trouble.

All online interactive sites are subject to gaming, especially when the stakes are high. Presumably the more often government invites public participation and the lower the visibility of the results, the less often these nuisances will occur.

But what the "birthers" are doing is the equivalent of spamming up a public bulletin board, and reducing its utility for everyone else. (This is completely different than Minority Leader John Boehner using the site to push his suggestion that Congress act in a more transparent manner by posting all major legislation online 72 hours before a vote, by the way.)

It will be interesting to see if the open-government community responds in any way. Personally, I've already been on the site voting down the various "birther" suggestions. It's one thing to be tolerant of differences of opinion and have a civil disagreement; it's another thing to let nuts trash a town hall.

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