Beware of livestreaming politicians
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.