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Instagram Tea Leaves

by WS Editors

Oct 15, 2019 | Media, Politics

ABC News

It was easy enough to find out what the pundits thought about the Sept. 12 Democratic debate, but what about the candidates themselves? How did they position their candidacies in the days that followed? A scroll through Instagram was instructive and also provided a glimpse of how that platform is being deployed as source for current affairs.

Bernie had a bad cold that night, it lodged in his throat, altered his voice, gave his eyes a watery effect and muted his usual vigor. Shaun King, a talented civil rights activist, journalist and Bernie fan with a huge online following, sought to counter the adverse impression with this post about Bernie’s support among young people:

Iowans under the age of 25 have donated more to Sanders than to Biden, Warren, Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker, and Andrew Yang combined.

Kamala Harris tried to strengthen her identification with African-American voters by doubling down on her biography as a graduate of a historically black college, and dropped in a savvy line about campus life in the process.

Happy Founders’ Day to @texassouthern. It’s game time.

After Beto winningly broke new ground on the gun debate (“Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47, we’re not going to let it be used on fellow Americans anymore”), The Washington Post reported on Instagram on a new opening in the gun wars:

145 CEOs implore Senate to act on guns

The CEOs of Twitter, Uber, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Yelp, and more than 140 other U.S. companies sent a letter to Senate leaders, pressing them to expand background checks to all firearms sales and implement stronger “red flag” laws.

Harris has been turning to social media to counter some of the tactical problems she has faced in her candidacy. She is the daughter of Indian and Jamaican immigrants, and her husband, Douglas Emhoff, is white. Her background, as described in The Washington Post, “in many ways embodies the culturally fluid, racially blended society that is second-nature in California’s Bay Area and is increasingly common across the United States.” Still, she has been criticized for advancing polices during her tenure as California’s Attorney General that led to the incarceration of African Americans; she has endured public fallout from apparently poisoned relations with members of her family back in Jamaica; and she has seemed to struggle with the challenge of telling her story in a simple, authentic, and distilled way that voters can easily digest. She has repeatedly posted pictures on Instagram of herself with her sister, with the following caption.

Instagram vs. Real Life. Love my sister, and so grateful to have her by my side.

Also shortly following the debate, this Franklin Pierce University–Boston Herald poll showed Bernie widening his lead in New Hampshire:

Bernie 29
Biden 21
Warren 17
Harris 6
Yang 5
Buttigieg 4

Sally Kohn, a respected commentator on cable news formats and a frequent contributor to Instagram, offered praise of Elizabeth Warren.

Elizabeth Warren is just on her own level. Everyone else is debating. @warren is teaching. If ANY of these candidates win, America will be better for it. And we are all smarter and more informed about policy just for listening to Elizabeth Warren speak.

Trevor Noah from Comedy Central’s The Daily Show had this succinct exchange with Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old global leader on climate issues.

Trevor: Do you feel a difference in the conversation around climate change traveling from Sweden to America?

Greta: I would say yes. Here, it feels like it’s being discussed as something you believe in or not. Where I come from, it’s more like a fact.

The Harris team posted this line from their candidate’s debate performance. It was obviously scripted, but effective nonetheless.

People ask me if Trump is responsible for El Paso—I say he may not have pulled the trigger, but he’s tweeting out the ammunition.

The Elizabeth Warren camp posted this declaration, after a week in which she was criticized for seeking and accepting large contributions and taking her competitors to task for being candidates of the moneyed interests.

Our campaign is 100% grassroots funded—no fancy fundraisers, no federal lobbyists, no PACs.

MSNBC posted several signature comments from the debate transcript:

My Dad grew up on a peanut farm in Asia with no floor and now his son is running for president. That is the immigration story that we have to be able to share with the American people —Andrew Yang

Good politics is supposed to be not about the day-to-day fights of the politicians, but about the day-to-day lives of Americans —Pete Buttigieg

I will be able to take on the greed and corruption of the corporate elite and create a government and an economy that works for all of us, not just the 1% —Bernie Sanders

The Daily Show called out Julian Castro a) for hammering Biden for allegedly contradicting himself, and b) for opportunistically accusing the frontrunner of memory lapse. After checking the facts, it turned out that Biden was making a legitimate distinction on a policy matter, and Castro had overreached.

Kamala Harris expanded on her identification with the concerns of African Americans with an interesting riff on the benefit to black students of having black teachers at an early age.

I know how important having a teacher who looks like you is to your success.

If a Black child has a Black teacher before the end of third grade, they’re 13% more likely to go to college. If that child has had two Black teachers before the end of third grade, they’re 32% more likely to go to college. I strongly believe you can judge a society based on how it treats its children and we are failing on this issue.

That Harris post provoked the largest online response of the day; here are a few representative samples, reflecting the highs and the undeniable lows of the online culture.

Are you saying that a teacher’s ability to teach well is dependent on their skin color?

Thank you for standing up for us.

That’s why you wanted to jail parents of poor kids?

You are so right, Kamala!

In the Bible those that won the battle we considered the underdog. You are the only one that can stand against Trump. Keep the faith and remain prayed up.

You are the most articulate, passionate candidate that I’ve seen for anything since Obama.

Always speaking on Black Americans. Why not concentrate on ALL?

I teared up. OMG

Kamala do you truly believe that black people can’t see right through your pandering? YOU’RE MARRIED TO A WHITE GUY

You and Elizabeth are it. Older gents need to step aside

If black people don’t vote for this lady in my opinion you threw your rights of any kind of equality right out the window.


Hi, Mrs. President

She’s way too scripted, and I can’t imagine having to listen to her creepy laugh more

And this Internet nugget:

64% of the statistics are made up on the fly 71% of the time.

In a comment reminiscent of the Obama line, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” Cory Booker sought with this post to sharpen his stance as a viable moderate in a field he feels has tilted too far to the left.

We can’t sacrifice progress on the altar of purity.

And not to allow a comedic opportunity to go begging, Trevor Noah made a joke at the expense of Bernie and his cold, which, as often happens, may have made Bernie a more sympathetic figure.

Bernie, what happened to your voice? It’s all raspy and scratched up. It sounds like someone gave him a comb, like, “Sir, I think this could really help you.” And then he swallowed it.

—WS Editors

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