On March 1, John McCain's staff announced the launch of his Snapchat account, @SenJohnMcCain. It is terrible.
For the unfamiliar, what makes Snapchat great is the fact that everything you post disappears within 24 hours (unless someone takes a screenshot.) That gives it a certain spontaneity that you don’t find on, say, Instagram, where every single post has been carefully composed, edited, and filtered to create a beautiful but unrealistic tableau of potted ferns, elaborate brunch spreads, and trips to the beach.
Snapchat is where people admit to eating crackers for dinner or post selfies captioned “I want to die.” It’s a place where trying to carefully control your image just ends up making you look boring or lame, which is what makes it a bad fit for politicians.
John McCain and his staffers (who he’s admitted run his account) utterly fail to grasp any of this. Most of his snaps fall into one of the following two categories:
1. Glorified press releases. These usually feature McCain standing in front of a podium and holding a microphone, and have captions like, “Honored to receive this award from J.P. Morgan Chase for my efforts to help out veterans” or “Today, I marked the US-Slovenian history of friendship with Pres. Borut Pahor.”
As important as maintaining a positive relationship with the Slovenians undoubtedly is, this is not what Snapchat is for. We’re here to watch D.J. Khaled yell “LIOOONNNNN!!!!” from his balcony, not to see pictures from some boring press conference.
2. Promos for TV appearances. Taken by his staffers while he’s being interviewed for one cable news show or another, these have captions like “Live on Meet The Press Daily in moments. Be sure to tune in!” or “Coming to you in the next hour from FOX’s America’s Newsroom.”
Again, this shows a fundamental lack of understanding of how Snapchat works. It’s a form of entertainment of its own, used primarily by people who don’t pay for cable — often, while they’re waiting in line to pay for coffee. If we wanted to watch TV, we would just … watch TV. The only people likely to be impressed by this kind of #social #content are baby boomer dads, and they don’t know how to use Snapchat.
In an interview with Roll Call, McCain said that he uses Snapchat to engage with his constituents, “especially young people.” That’s great, but unless McCain adds you as a friend, you won’t be able to send him a message in response. So that “engagement” is pretty one-sided.
More likely, McCain’s presence on Snapchat has something to do with this leaked National Republican Senatorial Committee memo, which encouraged candidates to use the app to connect with so-called “millennials.” (We asked McCain’s office if that was the case, but haven’t gotten a response yet.)
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This is a misguided approach that assumes that young voters will choose candidates on the basis of their social media presence, rather than, say, who’s offering them free college. But, regardless, politicians’ Snapchats don’t have to suck.
It’s not a great place to discuss policy, since there’s not much nuance you can convey in 10-second videos. But it would be kind of fun to watch McCain barbecuing ribs with his grandkids, or to learn what kind of snacks he brings on cross-country flights.
A lot of lawmakers who routinely push terrible policies are charming when you meet them face-to-face. By showing what they’re like when they’re not standing behind a podium at a press conference, and sharing mundane yet relatable aspects of their lives, they might actually come across as human.
But that’s enough free advice for the GOP. Future consultations will be billed at $500 an hour, to be paid in the form of donations to Planned Parenthood.