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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Instagram Live is a way for politicians to answer questions while trying to appear authentic and down-to-earth. They invite you into their kitchens, like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. They're drinking beer, like Sen. Elizabeth Warren. They're getting a dental exam, like Beto O'Rourke.

Why it matters: Instagram is the new hotness for politicians trying to communicate with younger voters in an authentic way — but the more they use it, the lamer the content is going to get.

  • Just being on the platform doesn't automatically give veteran politicians the same swag as Beto or AOC (whose "Instagram feed is a master class in political brand building," according to WIRED).

For O'Rourke and Ocasio-Cortez (who combined have over 2 million Instagram followers), Instagram and live-streaming were staples of their 2018 campaigns. Appearing as an "unfiltered" version of yourself on social media is natural for a 29-year-old. It's not so natural for those who look like they could be your parents or grandparents.

  • Hillary Clinton learned that the hard way in 2015 when she used Snapchat to tell her followers that she was "just chillin' in Cedar Rapids." She instantly became a meme.

How they use it: Ocasio-Cortez makes mac and cheese while talking about her progressive platform or addressing her critics. O'Rourke goes to Whataburger or the dentist or plays the air drums in his minivan while discussing politics. People are drawn to their quotidian content because they've already bought into their personalities. The rest haven't exactly mastered it:

  • Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, who's 66 and has almost 10,000 Instagram followers, has used the platform to talk directly to voters. Even Sen. Cory Booker tweeted last year that Brown has a "VERY good Instagram." But other than that, he hasn't gotten much attention for his use of social media.
  • Democrat Richard Ojeda, who ran unsuccessfully for a Congressional seat in West Virginia, posted a selfie video to Twitter to confirm the rumors that he's running for president. He didn't really use Instagram for videos during the 2018 elections.
  • Gillibrand baked a berry cobbler on New Year's Eve on Instagram, though she's posted recipes on the platform before. Just this week, John Delaney used Facebook live to answer questions while driving to Iowa. This certainly felt inspired by O'Rourke's minivan trips, but Delaney's video didn't get much love (it had less than 2,000 views).
  • Julian Castro, meanwhile, has gone more of the traditional route, posting produced (not live) videos to Facebook.
  • As one Reddit user wrote: "It’s worth it if we get to see Bernie fussily making goulash while yelling about the Post Office." Sanders (who has 2.9M Instagram followers) mostly posts produced videos on his account.

The bottom line: The future of political discourse is vertically-oriented, always in selfie mode, and probably a little grainy. But just because it's live doesn't mean it's raw. Or any good.

Go deeper

Tech scrambles to derail inauguration threats

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Tech companies are sharing more information with law enforcement in a frantic effort to prevent violence around the inauguration, after the government was caught flat-footed by the Capitol siege.

Between the lines: Tech knows it will be held accountable for any further violence that turns out to have been planned online if it doesn't act to stop it.

Dave Lawler, author of World
5 hours ago - World

Uganda's election: Museveni declared winner, Wine claims fraud

Wine rejected the official results of the election. Photo: Sumy Sadruni/AFP via Getty

Yoweri Museveni was declared the winner of a sixth presidential term on Saturday, with official results giving him 59% to 35% for Bobi Wine, the singer-turned-opposition leader.

Why it matters: This announcement was predictable, as the election was neither free nor fair and Museveni had no intention of surrendering power after 35 years. But Wine — who posed a strong challenged to Museveni, particularly in urban areas, and was beaten and arrested during the campaign — has said he will present evidence of fraud. The big question is whether he will mobilize mass resistance in the streets.

Off the Rails

Episode 1: A premeditated lie lit the fire

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. Axios takes you inside the collapse of a president with a special series.

Episode 1: Trump’s refusal to believe the election results was premeditated. He had heard about the “red mirage” — the likelihood that early vote counts would tip more Republican than the final tallies — and he decided to exploit it.

"Jared, you call the Murdochs! Jason, you call Sammon and Hemmer!”