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Ciara O'Rourke
By Ciara O'Rourke November 10, 2022

Large social media followings don’t ensure election wins

If Your Time is short

  • Dr. Mehmet Oz, a celebrity doctor who started appearing regularly on Oprah Winfrey’s nationally televised talk show in 2006, has more Instagram followers than Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a state lawmaker who had no national name recognition before the midterm elections. 
  • Fetterman beat Oz to represent Pennsylvania in the U.S. Senate; his smaller follower count on Instagram is not proof that the election was illegitimate. 

Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman beat Republican candidate Mehmet Oz in the contest for a U.S. Senate seat representing the state. But a recent Instagram post suggests that the race was rigged and that the evidence is on the social media platform. 

Sharing screenshots of the verified Instagram accounts for both candidates with their follower counts circled — approximately 149,000 followers for Fetterman and 1.1 million for Oz — one Instagram user said on Nov. 9 that "there is no way that this is legitimate." 

"They think we’re stupid," it says above the screenshots.

This post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.)

The screenshots appear authentic, though when we looked at the candidates’ accounts Nov. 10, Fetterman had gained about 10,000 new followers following his Senate seat win. 

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It’s unsurprising that Fetterman, a state lawmaker, has fewer Instagram followers than Oz, a celebrity doctor who  started appearing regularly on Oprah Winfrey’s longtime televised talk show in 2006. 

But social media popularity doesn’t necessarily translate to wins at the ballot box. NPR plumbed the idea in August during an interview with Syracuse University professor Jennifer Stromer-Galley, who studies political social media messaging. Social media helps amplify a candidate's message, Stromer-Galley said, and they’re "talking primarily to supporters," but that could include people out of state who won’t vote in that person’s election. 

Consider Beto O’Rourke, the Democratic candidate for Texas governor who failed to unseat Gov. Greg Abbott. Like Oz, O’Rourke has about 1.1 million Instagram followers while Abbott has about 162,000.

O’Rourke’s "had a lot of success on social media," Stromer-Galley said on NPR. "It hasn’t necessarily translated into the wins that he has hoped for." 

Stacey Abrams, the Democratic candidate for Georgia governor, likewise has about 2.1 million followers. Gov. Brian Kemp, who prevailed in the election, has a fraction of that many followers, about 47,600. 

We rate claims that Instagram follower counts of Fetterman and Oz prove that the election was illegitimate Pants on Fire!


Our Sources

Instagram post, Nov. 9, 2022

NPR, For politicians, does online popularity translate into votes?, Aug. 28, 2022

Newsweek, Oprah and Dr. Oz's TV Relationship: A Timeline, Nov. 4, 2022

Mehmet oz Instagram account, visited Nov. 10, 2022

John Fetterman Instagram account, visited Nov. 10, 2022

Beto O’Rourke Instagram account, visited Nov. 10, 2022

Greg Abbott Instagram account, visited Nov. 10, 2022

Brian Kemp Instagram account, visited Nov. 10, 2022

Stacey Abrams Instagram account, visited Nov. 10, 2022


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