Is 2019 the Instagram election?

Not just Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: Netanyahu, Lapid, Michaeli, Livni, Bennett and more are utilizing Instagram Stories to share a different side of themselves, and galvanize voters.

The Instagram application is seen on a phone screen August 3, 2017.  (photo credit: REUTERS/THOMAS WHITE)
The Instagram application is seen on a phone screen August 3, 2017.
(photo credit: REUTERS/THOMAS WHITE)
It might be better known for photos of dinner, videos of cats and shots of the beach at sunset. But these days, Instagram is also home to politicians of all stripes. And with three months until Israel’s national election, candidates are utilizing the social media platform to reach potential voters in all sorts of ways.
While Instagram has been around since 2010, its popularity and features have sharply increased over the past two years. And two of its more prominent new functions are figuring heavily in political discourse: the ability to share live video and the posting of “stories” – photos or short video clips that disappear after 24 hours.
Earlier this week, after delivering his “dramatic” speech on the criminal investigations against him, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – or more likely an aide – took to Instagram Stories to crack jokes about the whole thing. Netanyahu utilized the “questions” sticker on the social media platform to invite his followers to fill in the following blank: “Bribery without money is like ____?” The prime minister eagerly posted many of the replies that rolled in, from “Kim without Kanye” to “Rachel without Ross,” “Tuesday without couscous” and “soccer without Messi.”
With more than 440,000 followers, Netanyahu is easily the most popular Israeli politician on Instagram. He’s far from the most popular Israeli on the app, trailing well behind Gal Gadot, Bar Refaeli, and models Anna Zak and Neta Alchimister. But since joining in early 2015, the prime minister has been using the platform more than ever to reach his supporters.
WHILE MOST politicians utilize Facebook heavily, more and more are turning to Instagram – dominated by young people – for further reach. Estimates indicate that more than 70% of users on the app are below the age of 35. And that is often a key demographic for many politicians, in particular those looking to galvanize first-time voters. To those savvy enough to know how, Instagram allows users to share live video; to caption quick snippets with GIFs and polls; and to invite feedback from people from anywhere in the world.
In the US midterm elections last year, politicians like New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Texas’s Beto O’Rourke were particularly noted for their utilization of the platform. Both posted humanizing videos featuring them in the kitchen, interacting with family, going about their daily lives and speaking directly to the camera – and, by extension, to the voter.
While few Israeli politicians come close to Netanyahu’s online following, many are keeping up a solid stream of activity on Instagram. Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, who has more than 40,000 followers, shares regular posts and videos on his account. On Wednesday evening, he shared video of him in the supermarket, saying his wife told him that if he’s going to spend all his time on the phone, he might as well do it while food shopping.
Many politicians from around the globe use the platform to make themselves appear more relatable, sharing snippets of their daily lives that wouldn’t usually be featured on traditional media.
A STUDY by Moran Yarchi and Tal Samuel-Azran on the 2015 Israeli election showed that female politicians in particular shine on social media, and they receive more engagement from followers than their male counterparts. The academic paper claimed that “social media provides greater opportunities for female politicians to promote themselves and improve their status in the political power play.”
And female Israeli politicians are certainly looking to take advantage of that. Labor’s Stav Shaffir, the youngest current MK and the youngest female MK in history, has just over 11,000 followers on Instagram. She populates her “stories” with videos of her at town hall and campaign events around the country, and regularly adds a musical touch. Shaffir, a musician who studied at a music academy for a year, often shares clips of her singing and playing instruments – including one of her performing Netta Barzilai’s winning Eurovision song “Toy” last year. She also puts to use the GIFs, filters and other functions that make Instagram so engaging.
View this post on Instagram

מוכנה גם להלחין שירים כדי שתתפקדו! יש רק עוד כמה שעות להתפקד כדי לאפשר לי להמשיך להילחם בשבילכם. יצאתי לרגע מהמליאה וזה מה שהצלחתי לעשות בדקה. רק אם תתפקדו תוכלו לבחור בי בפריימריז ולתת לי את הכוח להמשיך לעבוד בשבילכם, להילחם על הכסף שלכם ולהוביל פה מדיניות של צדק חברתי, שוויון, חופש ושלום. צריכה אתכם איתי, ממש ממש עכשיו. הדדליין בחצות. התפקדות לוקחת 3 דקות, עולה 75 שקלים בשנה ותאפשר לכם להצביע בפריימריז בעוד חודש, וגם לבחור בעתיד איך תיראה המפלגה. זה הזמן להצטרף, צריכה אתכם איתי! *מי שמתפקד, מוזמן גם לבקש שיר

A post shared by Stav Shaffir (@stavshaffir) on

Labor MK Merav Michaeli is a master of the Instagram format. She constantly shares videos and photos with her almost 22,000 followers, keeping them up to date on her parliamentary activities as well as her life. After Netanyahu’s “dramatic” speech on Monday, Michaeli mockingly shared a photo of her dishes drying on a rack, saying she used the household chore to calm down after all the excitement.
On Wednesday evening, Likud MK Sharren Haskel posted snaps of her buying Bamba at a gas station convenience store on the way to visit the grave site of the Baba Sali in Netivot.
RETURNING LIKUD candidate Gideon Saar shares photos of his young children, Yesh Atid MK Haim Jelin posts snaps of him biking around the neighborhood and Hatnua leader Tzipi Livni has shared quite a few snapshots of her cats. Amid campaigning and his work as education minister, Naftali Bennett has shared photos of him hiking, praying and even barbecuing with his close to 29,000 followers. While Netanyahu tends to stick to sharing speeches and diplomatic meetings, he has also posted family snapshots and more personal moments from time to time.
Yaron Katz, a lecturer at the Holon Institute of Technology, wrote that social media in the 2013 and 2015 national elections “determined dramatic changes in the balance of political power, and although the main channels of information remain the traditional media, the exposure of the public to social media is accelerating with a wide, unmediated public debate.”
For politicians – both veterans and newcomers – the use of social media has many perks. Firstly, they get to distribute their message directly to supporters, bypassing traditional media. They’re able to share regular tidbits and snapshots of their everyday lives in an effort to gain appeal and affinity, and the platform can offer exposure to lesser-known candidates not often covered nationally. And, often crucial in Israel’s elections, politicians can use social media to sidestep the laws that limit campaigning on broadcast media, particularly in the days closest to the election.
Like other social media platforms, Instagram offers sponsored ads – the chance to push media and posts to new audiences. This extends to both the traditional Instagram feed as well as to the “stories” – sponsored images and videos pop up between the content shared by people you follow. In addition to promoting themselves on Facebook and Twitter, politicians are likely to invest the relatively small price it takes to purchase ad space on Instagram as well.
That means Israelis on the app – even those who don’t follow a single politician – should expect to see campaign ads showing up in their feeds amid food shots and selfies as April 9 approaches.