Crowd power: How online intensity wiped out traditional politics

Democrats are wondering how to beat Trump. The only way might be to play his game.

Jeremy Hiemans: The game of politics for many decades has been played as one in which you’re supposed to keep your head down, you’re supposed to be bland, you’re supposed to be uncontroversial; your job is to court as many people as you can in the middle.

Donald Trump from the very beginning took a different posture, everything he did was about unleashing the agency of a small number of intense supporters.

This was going to be a campaign in which you could unleash the things that you’d been thinking—maybe your mad uncle muttering at the television—and suddenly every mad uncle muttering at the television was empowered—was sent a signal by this man that those private thoughts could now be made public.

As Donald Trump’s candidacy unfolded he built and created a symbiotic relationship with what we think of as a vast, decentralized social media army that did his bidding during the campaign.

These were mostly young white men on forums like Reddit and 4chan and they developed a kind of culture of competing with each other, vying with each other, to produce the most creative, the most sticky, the most intrusive meme or message that would penetrate social media and then seep into the mainstream media.

So every day they would do this and in response to the events of the news cycle, be it Hillary Clinton’s latest comments, be it Donald Trump’s latest policy pronouncements, they would go take that moment and elevate it.

The mainstream media were generally confident that Hillary would win the election: she was ahead in the polls fairly consistently and because she had much higher favorables.
While both candidates were unpopular, Hillary’s favorables in public opinion polls were generally about ten points higher than Donald Trump’s.

But the people doing social media sentiment analysis, firms like ForeSee, were tracking and finding something very different. Their job is to track net sentiment on social media in connection to political debates. And what they were finding throughout the campaign was that while Donald Trump’s favorables were about ten points lower than Hillary, his net favorability on social media was about ten points higher than Hillary.

One of the most striking facts we discovered when researching this book was that the day that Donald Trump had the highest net favorability on social media was his darkest day of the campaign. It was the day of the Access Hollywood tape being released. And it was because at that day his supporters, who had such intensity of commitment to him, rallied around him. They surged to his defense.

And even though it seemed in the mainstream media like this was the day that was all losing for Donald Trump, on social media that day Donald Trump actually won.

He was elected because he intuitively understood what we call New Power. And New Power is this ability to harness the energy of a connected crowd.

And while Hillary Clinton had a very traditional relationship with her crowd, Donald Trump had a relationship that reflects what we now know you need to do in order to really build depth of commitment politically.

So the NRA understands intensity in the same way that Donald Trump does.

One of its great strengths is, in addition to its old power brand (the fact that it’s a feared institution that politicians kind of quiver at the thought of), it also has an incredibly powerful New Power arm. And that arm goes beyond just its membership, it actually has been very effective at cultivating the most extreme elements of its support base.

If you listen to an NRA ad now they actually don’t really talk about guns anymore, they talk about this conspiratorial worldview, they pit liberals against people with their values. They suggest that government is on a mission to take away people’s liberties.

And what they’ve learned is that the way to keep intensity in their crowd, the way therefore at moments that really matter for it—like the Manchin-Toomey bill, if you remember when that bill came to Congress after the Newtown massacre, 90 percent of Americans supported background checks in public opinion polls, yet the 10 percent of people who opposed them won.

And the reason they did was at that moment the NRA was able to rally the intensity of its supporters to outnumber the gun control forces 8 to 1 in calls to the key senators who were the swing votes on that issue.

And the way they’ve done that is not by reining in their supporters, but actually unleashing their agency, by providing micro-grants to small, highly extreme political organizations at the grassroots level all over the country, by supporting the commerce, the culture, the politics, and the totalizing worldview of gun rights supporters. And in doing so they’ve actually been led by their extremes, but it’s their extremes that are helping them to keep the power that they have.

The question that those of us who want a world that’s different to the world that Donald Trump is building is, how do we stop him? What will it take?

It won’t be another candidate—who is marginally more “favorable” or “popular” than Donald Trump—but lacks the intensity, that capacity to immobilize new power, that Donald Trump demonstrated. It will need to be a candidate, it will need to be a movement that has real intensity behind it. These are the stakes right now.

We think of those Parkland kids, and to me, they’re the hope; because what their showing is they understand this need to generate intensity, they understand how to use New Power.

They’ve got this intuitive understanding that it’s not enough just to be right, it’s not enough just to strut out the facts, that you have to embody that message in a way that means that if you’re a kid anywhere in the world you can take that, adapt it, and make it your own.

These movements tend to be decentralized, they tend to not have strict messaging associated with them, and they tend to be structured in such a way, like the #MeToo movement, where you can take a frame, adapt it, and add your own voice.

The election of Donald J. Trump surprised many, most of all the Democrats. Jeremy Heimans, a political activist and the Founder of the online media company Purpose, explains it simply: Donald Trump won the internet, and thus won the presidency. Heimans is a political activist and the Founder of the online media company Purpose, explains it simply: Donald Trump won the internet, and thus won the presidency. It's largely the same way the NRA stays in the public eye: through dominating the conversation. Trump and the NRA, for all their foibles, are both masters at what Heimans calls "New Power" — being able to seize the moment and keep people talking — and anyone attempting to beat him needs to become a master at it, too. Jeremy's new book is the highly recommended New Power: How Power Works in Our Hyperconnected World-and How to Make It Work for You.

An organism found in dirt may lead to an anxiety vaccine, say scientists

Can dirt help us fight off stress? Groundbreaking new research shows how.

University of Colorado Boulder
Surprising Science
  • New research identifies a bacterium that helps block anxiety.
  • Scientists say this can lead to drugs for first responders and soldiers, preventing PTSD and other mental issues.
  • The finding builds on the hygiene hypothesis, first proposed in 1989.

Are modern societies trying too hard to be clean, at the detriment to public health? Scientists discovered that a microorganism living in dirt can actually be good for us, potentially helping the body to fight off stress. Harnessing its powers can lead to a "stress vaccine".

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that the fatty 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid from the soil-residing bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae aids immune cells in blocking pathways that increase inflammation and the ability to combat stress.

The study's senior author and Integrative Physiology Professor Christopher Lowry described this fat as "one of the main ingredients" in the "special sauce" that causes the beneficial effects of the bacterium.

The finding goes hand in hand with the "hygiene hypothesis," initially proposed in 1989 by the British scientist David Strachan. He maintained that our generally sterile modern world prevents children from being exposed to certain microorganisms, resulting in compromised immune systems and greater incidences of asthma and allergies.

Contemporary research fine-tuned the hypothesis, finding that not interacting with so-called "old friends" or helpful microbes in the soil and the environment, rather than the ones that cause illnesses, is what's detrimental. In particular, our mental health could be at stake.

"The idea is that as humans have moved away from farms and an agricultural or hunter-gatherer existence into cities, we have lost contact with organisms that served to regulate our immune system and suppress inappropriate inflammation," explained Lowry. "That has put us at higher risk for inflammatory disease and stress-related psychiatric disorders."

University of Colorado Boulder

Christopher Lowry

This is not the first study on the subject from Lowry, who published previous work showing the connection between being exposed to healthy bacteria and mental health. He found that being raised with animals and dust in a rural environment helps children develop more stress-proof immune systems. Such kids were also likely to be less at risk for mental illnesses than people living in the city without pets.

Lowry's other work also pointed out that the soil-based bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae acts like an antidepressant when injected into rodents. It alters their behavior and has lasting anti-inflammatory effects on the brain, according to the press release from the University of Colorado Boulder. Prolonged inflammation can lead to such stress-related disorders as PTSD.

The new study from Lowry and his team identified why that worked by pinpointing the specific fatty acid responsible. They showed that when the 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid gets into cells, it works like a lock, attaching itself to the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR). This allows it to block a number of key pathways responsible for inflammation. Pre-treating the cells with the acid (or lipid) made them withstand inflammation better.

Lowry thinks this understanding can lead to creating a "stress vaccine" that can be given to people in high-stress jobs, like first responders or soldiers. The vaccine can prevent the psychological effects of stress.

What's more, this friendly bacterium is not the only potentially helpful organism we can find in soil.

"This is just one strain of one species of one type of bacterium that is found in the soil but there are millions of other strains in soils," said Lowry. "We are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of identifying the mechanisms through which they have evolved to keep us healthy. It should inspire awe in all of us."

Check out the study published in the journal Psychopharmacology.

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