NC’s Jeff Jackson offers a real look inside Congress
Published February 2, 2023
By Paige Masten
Editor's note: This article first appeared in The Charlotte Observer.
For all the perils of social media — and there are many — one benefit is the ability to deliver information to people who may not engage with it otherwise.
That’s especially true when it comes to politics. Scores of people do not know who represents them at the local, state or federal level, nor do they know how the government actually works. And it’s not necessarily because they’ve never tried, or because they don’t care — it’s because politicians have failed to reach them where they are.
Jeff Jackson, the state-senator-turned-congressman from North Carolina, figured that out a long time ago.
Jackson has made a robust social media presence a hallmark of his political career, and not just for the purpose of campaigning. He’s long been popular on Reddit, keeping North Carolinians abreast of current events and the goings-on of their state legislature. Throughout the pandemic, his Instagram page was an important resource for his Mecklenburg County constituents.
Now, as a newly elected member of Congress, Jackson has taken to TikTok to explain what Capitol Hill is like — and millions of people are tuning in.
A video from December detailing what happens after you’re elected to Congress got 2.7 million views. Jackson’s explanation of the “weird process” of getting an office was watched 2.2 million times. The most popular so far has been his breakdown of the House speaker fight, which has 3 million views.
“It turns out just being a halfway sensible person and speaking directly to people in a normal tone of voice about serving in Congress is pretty compelling,” Jackson told me. “I am a little surprised just how compelling it turned out to be.”
Jackson’s goal with social media appears to be, above all, to inform. Transparency is important to him, he says, as it should be — public trust in government is near historic lows and only seems to get worse with time. Part of that lack of trust is rooted in the belief that politicians are primarily self-interested or corrupt. Since his election to Congress, people have asked Jackson when the insider trading will start. Jackson responded by making a video outlining his personal finances and said he and his wife do not own any individual stocks.
Politicians have to do more than merely use social media — they have to use it well. There is a fine line between genius and cringeworthy, and erring on the wrong side of it will earn you an eye-roll instead of people’s respect. North Carolina is no stranger to such faux pas: remember how Mark Walker was ridiculed for his Waffle House order, or how Cal Cunningham committed the cardinal sin of conflating grilling with barbecue?
Jackson approaches social media in a straightforward manner. And it clearly resonates with people, including those who don’t live in his district or even North Carolina. People comment on his posts to express their appreciation for Jackson’s transparency. Commenters who self-identify as Republicans say they respect him despite the difference in political beliefs. Always, they ask questions (to which Jackson often responds).
Many of Jackson’s now-colleagues, such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have figured this out, too. Ocasio-Cortez has 8.6 million followers on her personal Instagram account, where she constantly posts stories, Q&As and live videos that explain matters big and small. It’s a kind of openness we rarely see these days, and it’s refreshing.
A cynical person would say they only do it for the votes, and who knows? Maybe they’re right. But regardless, there’s a real benefit to the access that politicians like Jackson provide, especially in an era where government has become far too distant and opaque.
“To me, it feels like part of the job of being a representative. If we believe in transparency, then social media is a tool for accomplishing that,” Jackson told me. “So I don’t think that I’m doing anything particularly notable or special. I just see this as an extension of my job.”