It’s been an unprecedented week in Israeli politics, and even though the
traditional media might have been suckered into the election drama, luckily
virtual online platforms like Facebook were there to keep things real!
Tuesday morning, while political analysts were still trying to get their heads
around the surprise announcement that Likud and Kadima are to form a national
unity government and that all talk of elections is off the table for now, social
media networks gave Israelis space to react and reflect.
to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s political U-turn ranged from joy to
frustration to a total loss of faith in the country’s leadership.
activists involved in last summer’s mass social justice protests used the online
networks to rally protesters to an impromptu anti-government protest in Tel Aviv
Tuesday night, Israeli Facebook group “Status Chatter,” which spotlights
interesting status updates and has close to 93,000 “likes,” used to the moment
to remind us why we should never trust politicians.
The group somehow
captured a Facebook status update posted by Kadima party leader Shaul Mofaz on
“Listen well: I will not enter Bibi’s government. Not today. Not
tomorrow and not after I am elected Kadima party leader on March 28. It is
really bad and it is a failure and, under my leadership, Kadima will replace it
in the next elections. Is that clear enough?”
While reminding the public of
political half-truths previously uttered by our leaders is nothing new, thanks
to the sharing power of social media networks Mofaz’s former statement quickly
went viral and the cheeky comment added by Status Chatter emphasized the point
“Listen well: Do not believe the status updates of politicians on
Facebook. Not today and not tomorrow and not over the next thousand years. Is
that clear enough?”
Dr. Tal Samuel Azran, a lecturer at the Sammy Ofer School of
Communications, Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center, said that while politicians
are now clear on how useful social media can be in order to disseminate their
messages, reckless comments online can also cause trouble for them just as they
do for anyone else.
“On one hand social media provide a direct link
between politicians and their followers, they can mobilize many people and make
them feel close to the leaders, but at the same time there is a high potential
to fail,” observed Azran, who was interviewed for this column before the
coalition announcement was made.
Despite the risks, politicians don’t
seem ready to close down their Facebook pages just yet, and last week, as rumors
hit that there might be an election, party leaders furiously interacted with the
Netanyahu, who is possibly the most popular Israeli politician on
Facebook with more than 224,000 “likes,” moved from mourning his father to
explaining the need for early elections and then quickly justifying the need for
a national unity coalition.
Meanwhile, Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich
with more than 22,000 “likes” used her Facebook page to express the dismay that
a deal had been formed between Likud and Kadima in such an underhand and
The others, Yisrael Beytenu’s Avigdor Liberman with nearly
20,000 followers, Yair Lapid of the newly formed Yesh Atid party with 56,000
likes and Netanyahu’s new partner Mofaz, who has only a trailing 4,000 fans on
Facebook, were all conspicuously quiet.
Interviewed for this column
before the coalition announcement, Nir Hirshman, spokesman for Likud minister
Michael Eitan (seen as among the most new-media savvy politicians) and a new
media communications expert, said that while the number of Israelis who have
joined Facebook in the past few years is incredible, the power of online forums
is not its volume of users but how active they are.
He pointed out that
in Israel, the average Facebook member has twice as many “friends” as in other
countries, helping information to spread rapidly. Hirshman also highlighted that
Israelis check their Facebook updates multiple times each day.
there are people who literally live on Facebook,” he observed, ironically
pointing out that it is no longer an issue of whether social media are important
for politicians but rather how they should use the tool.
said that one of the keys to successfully using social media is for “politicians
to remain honest.”
Citing US President Barack Obama, who has become a
role model for social media-using politicians, Hirshman said that if a staff
member posts on Facebook or Twitter then this is made clear, and if Obama
comments, he signs “bo.”
The question remains now is how to manage old
Facebook status updates that come back to haunt you?