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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

GOP implosion: Trump threats, payback

Spotted last week on a work van in Evansville, Ind. Photo: Sam Owens/The Evansville Courier & Press via Reuters

The GOP is getting torn apart by a spreading revolt against party leaders for failing to stand up for former President Trump and punish his critics.

Why it matters: Republican leaders suffered a nightmarish two months in Washington. Outside the nation’s capital, it's even worse.

Erica Pandey, author of @Work
2 hours ago - Economy & Business

The limits of Biden's plan to cancel student debt

Data: New York Fed Consumer Credit Panel/Equifax; Chart: Axios Visuals

There’s a growing consensus among Americans who want President Biden to cancel student debt — but addressing the ballooning debt burden is much more complicated than it seems.

Why it matters: Student debt is stopping millions of Americans from buying homes, buying cars and starting families. And the crisis is rapidly getting worse.

Why made-for-TV moments matter during the pandemic

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photos: Erin Schaff-Pool, Biden Inaugural Committee via Getty Images

In a world where most Americans are isolated and forced to laugh, cry and mourn without friends or family by their side, viral moments can offer critical opportunities to unite the country or divide it.

Driving the news: President Biden's inauguration was produced to create several made-for-social viral moments, a tactic similar to what the Democratic National Committee and the Biden campaign pulled off during the Democratic National Convention.

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