Since winning her seat in Congress on November 6th, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been using social media —particularly Instagram Stories —to provide a detailed, comprehensive and often humorous breakdown of her process of preparing to take office in January.
In the first post from a pinned Instagram Story titled “Congress Camp 1” Ocasio-Cortez asks, “So you get elected to Congress…now what?” She has shared images and videos from Congressional field trips and other orientation events, explained the resources provided to members-elect (including a yearbook, a swag bag and a Congressional Management Guide), walked her followers through the steps of setting up her office and discussed current issues on Instagram Live while cooking dinner.
Corbin Trent, Ocasio-Cortez’s Director of Communications, tells Rolling Stone that the motivation behind the member-elect providing this information is “to shed as much light on the process and to be as open and transparent as possible, to give people an insight into what a freshman Congressperson is like, to give them some insight into what their government’s like, and hopefully make [politics] seem less foreign and unapproachable.”
Ocasio-Cortez’s choice to use Instagram along with Twitter as a primary tool for communication sets her apart from many older politicians. Instagram offers “more capacity for transparency and just to be herself,” Trent says, “I think there’s a larger comfort level there.”
According to Trent, Ocasio-Cortez runs her Instagram and Twitter accounts entirely herself, though she receives some help from her staff with her Facebook page. Ocasio-Cortez has also made an effort to make her social media accessible; she began adding captions for the deaf community to her videos after advocates directed her to the necessary tools.
Since Election Day, Ocasio-Cortez has been in the news almost daily for everything from joining environmental advocates in a sit-in outside Nancy Pelosi’s office to owning a coat. She has used social media to push back against criticism, explaining her reasoning for joining the sit-in, responding to a Fox News list of “Radical New Democratic Ideas” with an Instagram post captioned, “Fox News discovered our vast conspiracy to take care of children and save the planet 😂,” and calling out the journalist who posted about her clothes for deleting the post without apologizing. The majority of her recent posts, however, have been dedicated simply to explicating the steps she is taking in preparing to be sworn in rather than dealing with broader political questions.
Critics of Ocasio-Cortez have been eager to attack her lack of political experience, pointing to any mistake the moment one occurs. During a livestream with Justice Democrats on Sunday, Ocasio-Cortez misidentified the three branches of government, referring to them as “the presidency, the Senate and the House.” Her words drew criticism from conservatives, including Sarah Palin, who was widely mocked for her myriad flubs during her 2008 vice presidential run. Ocasio-Cortez responded to a comment on Twitter about the branches slip from an Ohio state representative, writing: “Maybe instead of Republicans drooling over every minute of footage of me in slow-mo, waiting to chop up word slips that I correct in real-[time], they actually step up enough to make the argument they want to make: that they don’t believe people deserve a right to healthcare.”
During her campaign, Ocasio-Cortez received similarly intense scrutiny: she was criticized for referring to Israel’s presence in the West Bank as an “occupation,” claiming that “unemployment is low because everyone has two jobs,” and growing up in a house some considered to be too nice to align with her depiction of herself as working-class.
The intended effect of Ocasio-Cortez’s social media presence, according to Trent, is to draw people into politics and motivate them to take action. “Hopefully it will encourage more people to participate in the process, it will encourage more people to run, hopefully it will rekindle people’s interest in politics and hopefully get rid of some of the skepticism or the disconnect from people they represent,” he says.
“There’s a natural draw of young people, certainly the fact that she’s 29 I think speaks to a lot of people, the fact that she’s a woman of color speaks to people of color, young women of color.” Ocasio-Cortez plans to continue posting detailed accounts of her experience in Congress moving forward. Trent says that “a big part of what she’s trying to do is include people in the political process,” and that “social media, traditional media in all forms, and emerging new medias that are out there are all going to play a role” in that process.