Several days have passed since Finance Minister Yair Lapid posted his
much-discussed “Ricki Cohen” status on Facebook, but social media experts are in
agreement – it was a success.
What Lapid succeeded in doing, however, is
another question. Some social media professionals praised the finance minister
on Wednesday for connecting to the public by directly releasing messages via
Facebook. Others, however, accused him of bolstering his celebrity status and
keeping the public discourse shallow.
“In general, the continued use of
public communications channels by politicians not just looking for votes is
positive, and allows the public to engage with its leadership. This was the
Facebook election! Relations established during the campaign still exist, and
it’s healthy to use that platform,” strategic consultant Jason Pearlman, who
worked with Likud Beytenu in the last election, said.
On Monday Lapid
described on his Facebook page a theoretical 37-year-old woman from Hadera named
Ricki Cohen who, together with her husband, earn NIS 20,000 and support their
three children. Lapid called Mrs. Cohen “middle class,” and said the government
must improve the quality of government services, including education, police and
health, increase Mrs. Cohen’s quality of life and reduce her cost of
Soon after, myriad articles and opposition politicians accused
Lapid of being detached from the middle class and its needs. They pointed out
the Cohen family’s income puts them above the top 20 percent of earners and that
they are not middle class according to the Bank of Israel, but rather
“Using Facebook is quite brave,” Pearlman said. “Once
you post something, it’s just out there. Things can be misconstrued.
a way of packaging and distributing a message, but with a bit less
Ze’ev Yanay, a media adviser and expert in social media, who
worked on Labor MK Miki Rosenthal and Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini’s campaigns,
said the opposite, pointing to the filters of the editing process and length
constraints in traditional media, and explaining that social media “cuts out the
middleman,” even though the public is still free to respond.
social media, politicians face the danger of authentic opposition from the
public to his or her messages, as well as inauthentic opposition from interest
groups that try to hurt the politician’s image by producing fake comments on
Facebook, which is the most-read platform today,” Yanay
According to Yanay, the opposition to Lapid’s Facebook post
seems like an “orchestrated offensive,” because similar messages are
Still, “despite the attacks and difficulties, he’s created a
new, successful political work tactic.
He understands the meaning of
social platforms as the best way to talk to individuals by allowing politicians
to go over the traditional media’s head and to learn how the public feels,”
Ori Malkin, a doctoral candidate at the Bar-Ilan University
School of Communications and a former social media adviser to politicians such
as MK Miri Regev (Likud), said it’s clear that Lapid is familiar with the
disadvantages of traditional media, which is “unable to pass on politician’s
words as they are, without comment or cynicism.”
“There is no doubt Lapid
is aiming at a specific audience – young, middle class, established
[financially]. He needs to be aware of other groups that are exposed to his
messages, because they are public and the internet is a forum for two-way
communications. They can answer and disrupt his messages,” Malkin
According to Malkin, Lapid’s strategy will be successful over
time if he “has his finger on the public’s pulse,” pays attention to public
opinion, and doesn’t ignore reactions to the messages he relays.
long posts prove that he wants to be a storyteller, use simple language, and
talk to every one of us,” Malkin added.
“Lapid is considered a great
communicator because he simply knows how to tell a story.
He shares his
thoughts and deliberations with the public.
This is new, effective
politics and one of the central reasons for his party’s success.”
explained that Lapid’s storytelling tactic works because Facebook users are
looking for something fun to pique their interest, rather than hard
However, Tal Schneider, writer of the political insider blog
“The Plog,” which often covers politicans’ use of social media, said that
Lapid’s long texts on Facebook are indicative of his difficulty in transitioning
from author, columnist and poet to politician.
“Lapid is using Facebook
as a literary tool, and less as a professional one. He needs to move from being
a writer on Facebook to someone with the responsibility to implement things,”
she said. “Even if he thinks he’s writing prose, people want to know, when the
finance minister writes [Mrs.
Cohen makes NIS 20,000] if it’s before or
after taxes. It’s not clear if he means middle class or upper-middle
In other words, even if the way Lapid writes hasn’t transitioned
from prose to politics, his readers have, Schneider explained, and he needs to
give more details.
“He’s charming, but that’s a gimmick, and gimmicks
have expiration dates,” she quipped.
“When people start protesting, and
he writes a story about a Holocaust survivor, he won’t look so charming
Plus, by avoiding the traditional media, and not talking to
reporters, Lapid is exposing herself to harsher criticism from the
On the other hand, Schneider said Lapid deserves a grace period,
and people cannot expect him to write an entire economic plan on social
Schneider posited that Lapid intentionally kept his message vague
and made sure to post it on the morning of the final day of Passover, during a
lull in news, in order to keep himself in headlines, and the actual budget out
“Lapid still wants to be in show business and thinks it’s fun to
be a non-stop attraction.
He’s been like that since the day he entered
politics last year, and the buzz will continue over time. People get excited
over every bit of nonsense he writes,” she said.
“[The Mrs. Cohen
Facebook post] seems very wellplanned.
Is this the kind of public
discourse he wants? About the definition of the middle class? If so, he
succeeded,” Schneider added.
Tehilla Shwartz Altshuler, who heads the
Media Reform project at the Israel Democracy Institute, took to Facebook to say
Lapid did the right thing in continuing to use the social network, which
requires “courage and thick skin,” but encourages public discussion.
the same time, though, Lapid is using Facebook to distract from real issues,
Altshuler wrote: “Yair Lapid succeeded.
We’re not talking about the
budget, but about Ricki Cohen... we’ll keep talking about Ricki, and make funny
Internet memes, and in the meantime, Uri Yogev is being appointed Finance
Yanay also pointed out that “after all this,
we’re talking about Ricki Cohen and not the budget.”
However, he took a
more positive approach, saying that, while the Facebook status had two effects –
blurring the discussion of the budget and putting a human face on the issue – he
will give Lapid the benefit of the doubt and say the finance minister meant to
do the second.
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