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The White House is like any political body--they want to give the illusion of listening to the people without having to actually do what anyone else wants of them. Online petitions are perfect for this.

Their "word" is that 100,000 people sign an online petition, and some junior staffer writes an official response restating the administration's position. So in exchange for 100,000 people getting their slacktivism on and having a false sense of accomplishment, the White House gives up maybe an hour of time from their staff. It effectively reduces their accountability to the public by encouraging this false sense of accomplishment.

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