A place to react

Social media is a direct link between politicians, followers; there is a high potential for mistakes.

Netanyahu, Mofaz, social media 370 (photo credit: Screenshots)
Netanyahu, Mofaz, social media 370
(photo credit: Screenshots)
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!
On 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.
Online responses 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.
While 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 March 3:
“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 even harder:
“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 public.
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 secretive way.
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.
“Today, 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.
Ironically, he 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?