Internet-based social networks played a significant role in shaping the identities of the winners and losers in these elections. Yair Lapid leaned heavily on his Facebook page, proving the social media website to be very effective in helping him and his Yesh Atid party succeed big time. On the other hand, Eretz Chadasha (“New Country”) used innovative tools on its site, but did not gain entry to the Knesset.
Eretz Chadasha, headed by Rani Blair and Eldad Yaniv, pioneered the method of broadcasting campaign ads on YouTube, way before the campaign ad cycle even officially started. The volume of activity on the Internet was large, but it failed to realize its subversive potential. The network devoted itself to buzz, and all the party “chatter” developed a support base. Supporters asked Yaniv to drop out of the race shortly before the election if it became clear the party would not be able to garner enough votes to pass the threshold. Yaniv did not heed their call.
Eretz Chadasha crafted a new form of campaigning. The party stood up to the wealthy class, uncovered its secrets, and yet failed to act transparently from within its own movement. It depended on a massive advertising campaign on the popular Mako website and belated support, which arrived all too late from the media. Eretz Chadasha claimed that the buzz on social media would help grab some seats.
Still, many have criticized the idea that political discussion on online social networks can translate into more seats. Up to the very last minute, Eretz Chadasha proceeded with its head stuck in the social media universe and did not even take a look at the reality outside. Despite the buzz, subversion and YouTube views, it failed to succeed in the most basic aspect of elections — bringing voters to the polls. This requires more work. Parties need real power bases, with activists on the ground, venturing out to the peripheral areas of the country to campaign. Parties have to work in the field and not just pound their keyboards. The big question is whether Eretz Chadasha is ready to work in the field for the next four years, or whether the party’s efforts were just a flicker in Israeli politics.
Yair Lapid and his Yesh Atid party were the big surprise in this election, transforming the election into a fascinating event. Many critics mocked Lapid’s Facebook efforts. Lapid used Facebook as a platform for free and open dialogue, though not always addressing the most difficult questions. Quite a few voters understood that they could find Lapid on Facebook; they sat on his tail and definitely tried to rattle him. Lapid, like many other leaders, realized the power of the network, so that is where he based his campaign. He managed to earn for himself an image of some Left, a lot of Center and even a drop of Right in his politics, always using the power of focusing on the middle class.
Tens of thousands supported Lapid on Facebook, viewing him as a candidate to rival even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the amount of private support he received. But commentators did not take Lapid’s Internet success seriously; it seemed virtual and impossible. Some gambled on other political stars. Lapid, however, realized that he could make use of the symbolic capital he has earned over the years in countless media appearances on his own and as the son of Tommy Lapid, the leader of the once-upon-a-time Shinui party, a secular Zionist party that was founded in 1974 and split into factions in 2006.
Eretz Chadasha tried to use only new media to be elected, and fell short. Lapid, a former broadcaster on Channel 2 and a Yedioth Ahronoth columnist, brought his stardom from the old media to Facebook and won big.
The op-ed was first published on “Israel Hayom“