This Instagram star might soon be mayor of one of Mexico’s wealthiest cities

Mariana Rodríguez spent a recent Wednesday afternoon high-fiving and hugging hundreds of supporters around town, plastering smiley-face stickers on dozens of cars, and dancing with a presidential candidate well into the night.

When Rodríguez, who is running for mayor of the northern Mexican city of Monterrey, got home, she turned her attention to her strongest base: her 3.7 million followers on Instagram. The social media influencer-turned-politician posted a series of stories about the day’s highlights before bidding her audience a good night.

As Mexico approaches a crucial election, Rodríguez’s bid for political office has upended the limits of conventional campaigning. The move has sparked concerns among Mexico’s electoral authorities about the potential advantage that she and similar candidates, who have amassed a significant following on Instagram and TikTok, hold over more traditional politicians. It has also raised questions about official oversight.

“There’s a tough discussion happening,” Claudia Zavala, an electoral adviser at Mexico’s National Electoral Institute (INE), told Rest of World. “Saying social media needs to be regulated elicits a lot of criticism (against lawmakers).”

The INE has been in talks with X, Google, and TikTok to enhance the monitoring of election campaigns, Zavala said. Current electoral legislation in Mexico does not address the use of social media in political campaigns.

Rodríguez’s social media base comes from a passion project that has nothing to do with politics. In 2017, the former model became known for her makeup tutorials on YouTube, where she now has over 63,500 followers. Her star rose over the years as she sold sunglasses and sneakersand documented her travels across the world with her then-boyfriend, former Senator Samuel García.

Rodríguez is “young, economically powerful, and most importantly, has great political and social capital,” which makes women aspire to be like her, Olga Nelly Estrada, a researcher specializing in gender and political discourse at the Autonomous University of Nuevo León, told Rest of World.

In 2020, a few months after marrying García, the 28-year-old posted a video showing off a pair of phosphorescent orange sneakers. “phospho, phospho!” she exclaimed. The two words quickly went viral and became the unofficial slogan for Movimiento Ciudadano, García’s party.

The following year, as García launched his bid for governor of Nuevo León, Rodríguez’s monologues about bronzer and lip liner gave way to political content. She recreated a Titanic scene with him on a speedboat flying Movimiento Ciudadano’s flag, and also starred in his campaign video. While promoting a sunscreen brand on Instagram, Rodríguez inserted several damning stories about her husband’s opponent, Clara Luz Flores, and her relationship with Keith Raniere, the convicted leader of the NXIVM cult. García won.


Instagram

In December, Rodríguez, who had studied organizational psychology at a private university, announced she was running for mayor of Monterrey — her first official foray into elected politics.

Since she launched her campaign, Rodríguez’s social media presence has become ever more frenetic: lifting weights at the gym, cuddling with her toddler, unboxing gifts, and publicizing fashion brands. During the 10-week inter-campaign period earlier this year, when candidates were barred from promoting their political proposals, Rodríguez posted critical stories about her competitors and reposted videos of her supporters promising to vote for her.

Her Instagram following surpasses that of the three presidential contenders combined by 1.5 million.

Some current polls show Rodríguez has a slight lead over her opponent, Adrián de la Garza, who has been mayor of Monterrey twice. With 142,000 followers on Instagram, de la Garza, 52, has run a more traditional campaign. According to the INE, Rodríguez invested around $45,000 in social media and online ads between March 31 and May 18 — eight times what de la Garza did.

De la Garza “is not a digital native, an avid content creator, or an Instagrammer, and he ends up giving this impression of the uncle who wants to talk like the kids,” Armando Ruiz, a political marketing expert, told Rest of World.

As Nuevo León faces a severe water shortage and growing violence, Rodríguez has become a frontrunner in the upcoming elections despite her inexperience. She has promised to better equip the police force, improve care for children with autism, put together a dedicated fund to support entrepreneurs, and implement day programs for seniors.

Some of Rodríguez’s supporters say they’re considering voting for her not only because of her proposals but also because she is a fashion influencer.

“I liked her content and the brands she promoted,” Virginia Velázquez told Rest of Worldas she waited for a selfie with Rodríguez during a rally in April. “I’ve been following her for a long time so I said we should support her in this, too.”

“We cannot monitor all social networks seven days a week, 24 hours a day.”

Movimiento Ciudadano has focused its campaign on young voters. Nearly a third of Mexico’s electorate is between 18 and 29 years of age.

“I lean more toward (Movimiento Ciudadano) because of their social media, videos, or stories,” Jasibe Martínez, a 21-year-old law student, told Rest of World during one of Rodriguez’s visits to a residential neighborhood in Monterrey.

The INE has a unit which monitors campaign spending across the country. But the decentralized nature of social media, and the need to protect freedom of expression, makes it difficult to track and effectively police content, said Zavala.

“We cannot monitor all social networks seven days a week, 24 hours a day,” she said.

The INE relies heavily on citizens and political parties to file complaints about questionable content on social media, according to Zavala. In January, it instructed García and Movimiento Ciudadano to remove content that could be considered advanced campaign activities. Two months later, the election watchdog ordered the removal of several Facebook posts promoting gender stereotypes and violence against female politicians.

Legal loopholes in social media regulations have sparked discussions among electoral authorities on how to strike a balance between protecting freedom of expression and preventing online hate speech and violence. “People think we want to censor them,” said Zavala.



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