President Obama may be the first digital president, but on the Web, his number-two plays second fiddle to no one.
Vice President Biden is simultaneously the most intentionally, and unintentionally, funny politician on social media. While it may be a chicken-and-the-egg question to ask which came first, the vice president's office have leveraged his folksy mannerisms and personal quirks to advance specific policy proposals and establish him as an online personality in his own right.
After all, he's the anchor of the closest thing the White House has to a podcast: his narrated tales of "Being Biden" chronicle his experience serving as the nation's second-highest officer, whether it's visiting with the University of Delaware's Lady Blue Hens basketball team, spending time with a retired Navy Seal and his dog or swearing in newly-elected senators on Capitol Hill.
Biden started the administration's first BuzzFeed channel in March 2014, whose amusing GIFs helped promote enrollment under the Affordable Care Act. A photo of him at age 26, part of a Throwback Thursday appeal for the health care law, generated write-ups in GQ as well as Men's Journal. He talked about climate change on VICE before Obama did, and tweaked the president for getting a Twitter handle after more than six years in office with the tweet, "Hey @POTUS – Welcome to Twitter. See you around the neighborhood. –vp."
Biden's Instagram account, which he launched a year ago, has featured everything from his too-cool aviator Ray-Bans to his escapades in the Old Executive Office Building with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, have generated a devoted following (complete with fan notes for women who appreciate photos from the vice president's younger days.
"We use the Vice President’s social media platforms to highlight the Vice President’s daily activities, amplify White House and administration policies, and have a little fun, too," explained a Biden aide in an e-mail.
In doing so, Biden has fostered the kind of intimate rapport with some Americans that digital natives are demanding.
"Voters are craving the immediacy, the authenticity of a quasi-personal relationship with elected officials," said Daniel Kreiss, an assistant professor of political communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's School of Journalism Mass Communication, in an interview.
Kreiss added that prominent politicians "realize it’s a battle for attention" and "try to create content that compels people to share it, because that’s how media consumed today."
This phenomenon helps explain how the vice president has used his Twitter account to speak to specific constituencies: In April he condemned conversion therapy for LGBT youth, a message than was retweeted more than 9,600 times.
Leelah is remembered. We should support efforts to ban the use of conversion therapy for minors. #LeelahsLaw
— Vice President Biden (@VP) April 10, 2015
But the vice president also scores viral hits when he's not even trying. Sometimes it's just a picture of him looking out of the Oval Office; other times it's a GIF of him whispering in the ear of Ashton Carter's wife Stephanie, with his hands on her shoulders, during the Defense Secretary's swearing in.
Or there's The Onion, the humor publication which has helped elevate Biden to cult status through its spoofs of his efforts to track down the Obamas' family dog Bo and his concern over how marijuana legalization in the District could harm his own weed-selling operation.
Wherever you go on the Web, it's been Biden'd.