Petition or Plebiscite? FlashDOS

Can we use web stats on government websites to express our opinion about parliamentary votes?

Commons debate on student finance and higher education funding

Details:
http://www.parliament.uk/business/news/2010/12/debate-on-tuition-fees1/

Vote aye/in favour:
http://www.parliament.uk/business/news/2010/12/debate-on-tuition-fees1/?vote=aye

Vote no/against:
http://www.parliament.uk/business/news/2010/12/debate-on-tuition-fees1/?vote=no

Every week, I listen to This Week In Tech as a downloaded podcast, although it is braoadcast online as a live programme too. The live listenership must be quite substantial because sites whose links are mentioned on air occasionally seem to be brought down during the programme, the result of an ad hoc distributed denial of service attack in which thousands of people all try to access the same website within the same few seconds of each other, and the server(s) on the hand buckle under the strain.

Which got me wondering: is this ability for a large number of people to: a) cause a traffic spike on a particular website if they visit it on the same day, and: b) bring down a site if the action is concentrated within the same few minutes, a way for a population to express it’s will on a single issue.

That is, we can have a plebiscite whenever we want by calling on folk to visit a particular URL on a particular day at a particular time to express a one-directional sentiment on a particular issue.

This is less effort than setting up a poll, less effort even than signing a petition; it’s non-attributable, as with demonstrations before the time when demonstrators had their faces photographed*, but admittedly subject to noise, gaming, and maybe a slight amount of inconvenience if it turns into an add hoc DDOS attack.

But we can, whenever we want, and if the mass action will is there, create a web stats blip, on any site we want, to express our will…

*Just by the by, coming through immigration at Heathrow the other day, I noticed they had electronic immigration gates for folk with chipped UK passports that did a spot of facial recognition (presumably) before opening the gate…

Hmmm…

PS we can maybe also do the same using Google Trends. For example, if we all enter the same phrase on Google search on the same day, maybe we can send a message to our lords and masters… So for example, how many Google searches on: fees wrong or fees right would it take to get a blip on the UK search trends today?

Or how about this? We add vote=aye or vote=no as an argument on the end of a URL for a particular Parlimantary vote/division, and then put in a web stats request to see how the popular vote went…?;-0

Commons debate on student finance and higher education funding

Details:
http://www.parliament.uk/business/news/2010/12/debate-on-tuition-fees1/

Vote aye/in favour:
http://www.parliament.uk/business/news/2010/12/debate-on-tuition-fees1/?vote=aye

Vote no/against:
http://www.parliament.uk/business/news/2010/12/debate-on-tuition-fees1/?vote=no

PPS re: deliberate (D)DOS attack, it’s worth reading something like Police and Justice Bill and its Impact on Denial of Service attacks. I’m not sure that trying to argue an attack is the same (in sense of preventing access to a location) as a sit-in or a picket line…?

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...