How Israeli MKs use Facebook to gauge their electorate's opinions
Most of MKs Facebook activity consists of uploading articles, announcements of radio or television appearances, in an attempt to get more viewers and listeners.
"You're a corrupt person, shame on you!! You write cheap stories and demagoguery here!!! In the U.S., they can't stand you! Neither can we!!!" wrote Dudi on the official Facebook page of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Another surfer, named Oded, suggested that Netanyahu publish his reaction to one of that day's events on his Facebook page. "I think it's a new literary record in the history of the Prime Minister's Office, pure pearls, polished Hebrew from the mouth of the light of the nations," he mocked.
Another surfer, Shuki, started off the day with a personal greeting to the prime minister in rhyme, along the lines of: Good morning sir. Today we light another candle. Let us pray they don't set fire to another mosque; after all a mosque is as straight as a candle. And who knows what comparisons it prompts. Have a nice day."
Dudi, Oded and Shuki are not the only ones involved in the heated political discussions on the social network's pages of Knesset members. The MKs and their spokespersons who are responsible for maintaining the pages do not always take into account that the platform that enables them to send messages and collect "likes" can also host genuine discussions and prompt public expression of opinions.
Politicians use their Facebook page primarily for public relations, and this may create the impression among surfers that they have some kind of grandiosity complex. Most of the Facebook activity consists of uploading articles published about the MKs, and announcements of their radio or television appearances, in an attempt to get more viewers and listeners to hear their positions. The MKs' photo albums usually contain flattering pictures of them standing next to the national flag, speaking in the Knesset or receiving foreign visitors. Alongside them are photos from parlor meetings in distant community centers and visits to schools.
"Facebook makes it possible to get in touch with people on the same level," says one MK's spokesman. "When the MK speaks in the press he talks to the public from above, so when he updates his status on Facebook, people respond immediately and real contact is established with him."
The spokesman said the statuses on MKs' Facebook pages use less formal language and are not as rigid as their press releases. "It's a tool that is beneficial for democracy because it provides feedback on parliamentary activity," he noted.
The little secrets in the photo album
Amid the status updates and public relations photos there are also some authentic snapshots from the MKs' lives and they occasionally provide a reason to chuckle. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman posted photos of himself kicking a soccer ball during a training session of the Juventus soccer team, MK Anastassia Michaeli was photographed with Border Policemen who helped extricate her car after it got stuck in the sand, Eitan Cabel provided a glimpse of his military reserve duty and Carmel Shama-Hacohen's son was captured sitting in the prime minister's seat in the Knesset plenum hall.
Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom maintains an extensive profile with photos and updates, but the most entertaining photos of him can be found on the profile of his wife, the Facebook and Twitter star, Judy Shalom Nir-Mozes. It features, among other things, Shalom riding a donkey during a family vacation, buying ice cream and sitting on the sofa with a bowl of sunflower seeds beside him.
In some cases, there is no dialogue between the MK and his constituents, just announcements from the MKs that elicit a chain of heated reactions. "You make me sick, so I un-friended you," wrote Michael to MK Michaeli. Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Lieberman's page is also loaded with protests from surfers and serves as a platform for fights between right- and left-wingers. "Good for you," Tzipi wrote to Lieberman and in response another surfer, Sawan, wrote her a series of curses and argued that Lieberman is a racist. Similarly, a surfer named Reuven wrote on MK Nitzan Horowitz's Facebook page that he appreciates his work and industriousness, but does not foresee a promising future for him in his party, Meretz. "I'm afraid that Meretz will not pass the threshold and a concerned and ardent MK such as you will gradually disappear," he wrote. "My advice is that you look for another home."
Aliza praised Horowitz and stressed "my husband and I have admired you since your days at Channel 10."
Some of the MKs and spokesmen erase unfavorable comments, but most are careful about doing so even if it means keeping unflattering comments online. Likud people who maintain the prime minister's official profile related that they erased nothing from it, except for curses. "They shouldn't say we are silencing people," they noted, but did say that one day they were asked to erase some 14,000 hostile comments in Arabic. The spokesmen of an MK active on Facebook related that they do not erase responses expressing relevant criticism of the MK and his work, except in cases where a surfer floods the MK's wall with comments.
Ask the surfers what they think
In some cases, Knesset members try to turn the Facebook pages into a consulting forum and solicit opinions on their future activities. MK Danny Danon asked the public what it thought about the wording of the declaration of loyalty he plans to present for discussion and got over 500 responses. "I would tell you what I think, but I don't have 300,000 spare shekels," one of them wrote. The status received only 55 "likes" but over 100 surfers shared it, apparently in an attempt to use the posting to mock Danon.
Interior Minister Eli Yishai also asked surfers for their opinion on the mosque bill he presented and got mixed reactions.
Many times the surfers use MKs' Facebook pages to try and influence them. Surfers from the West Bank posted protests against the evacuation of communities on the pages of right-wing Knesset members. Many requests regarding this matter were posted on the wall of coalition chairman Zeev Elkin, and he was even tagged in a photo with Likud MKs Tzipi Hotovely and Limor Livnat together with kids from the Ramat Gilad outpost.
In other cases, the MKs revealed a bit of their personal lives and how they spend their free time. Cabel invited surfers to watch him as a guest chef on Israeli chef Yisrael Aharoni's show; Shas MK Ariel Atias recommended listening to a radio program that would play the song, "Elekha, Maran" and MK Ahmed Tibi displayed his collection of cellular devices and noted that he has a Blackberry and decided after a long time to switch to an iPhone instead of a Nokia phone.
Habayit Hayehudi MK Uri Orbach does not stop at uploading articles and interviews, but updates his status on relevant issues. "Son, if they say to you in the army, 'women singing or a firing squad,' I'll forgive you if you nevertheless choose the music," he wrote about a month ago and got over 130 "likes" and dozens of responses.