On The Inverted U Shaped Curve of Online Tribalism

An article in the Washington Post about vaccine hesitancy caught my eye recently, but for a weird tangential reason. The post is titled “How wellness influencers are fueling the anti-vaccine movement“, and it is about how “influencers” are impacting the vaccination drive in America.

Glance at Jessica Alix Hesser’s Instagram page and you may feel a little like you’ve just opened up a pamphlet for a meditation retreat. Amid photos of lagoons and a waterfall, Hesser (eyes closed, one hand touching the side of her face) is awash in rainbow-hued lens glare or soaking in a bath with flowers floating on top. Her website contains blog posts recommending natural cardamom floss and Gregorian chants.
Sprinkled throughout, however, are posts where Hesser urges her nearly 37,000 followers to question the safety of the coronavirus vaccines. “Would you sign your children up to be part of a pharmaceutical trial and take them into a lab to get shot up with some experimental drug created by a criminal company?” she asks in one June post. In another from April, she writes that “many of you have heard about the large number of poke-free women” experiencing changes in their menstrual cycles “after spending time with people who got the jab.” Medical experts say that’s impossible. Hesser did not respond to requests for comment.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2021/09/12/wellness-influencers-vaccine-misinformation/


But there are influencers and there are influencers, it would seem:

Still, it’s those with anywhere between 10,000 and 50,000 followers — sometimes known as “microinfluencers” — who are believed within the marketing industry to have an especially outsize impact on their followers. In a post last year for a blog owned by the Association of National Advertisers, Lesley Vos wrote that social media users “don’t trust celebs or experts with more than 100,000 followers anymore.” Micro-influencers, on the other hand — and their even more niche cousins, nanoinfluencers, with fewer than 10,000 followers — can seem less sold-out and more authentic, approachable or relatable.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2021/09/12/wellness-influencers-vaccine-misinformation/

So who are micro-influencers, and what is special about them?

Micro-influencers aren’t typical celebrities, experts, or public figures. They specialize in a particular vertical and share content about their interests only. Their audiences are hyper-engaged; so, if a brand works with a highly-relevant micro-influencer, it can extend the reach and user engagement significantly.
No surprise: consumers are more likely to buy from someone they know and trust. So if a micro-influencer whom they follow recommends something, they’ll trust this recommendation more than a direct ad from a brand. It’s where word-of-mouth marketing takes the stage.

https://www.ana.net/blogs/show/id/mm-blog-2020-02-micro-influencers-better-content

This, apparently, is different from the market dominated by influencers without prefixes:

The problem is that users don’t trust celebs or experts with more than 100,000 followers anymore. Only 4 percent trust what influencers say online: People understand they post about a brand because it paid them for this ad. Authenticity and relatability are more important than popularity now. So, if you still want to get the most out of your influencer marketing endeavors, make sure to focus on micro-influencers in 2020.

https://www.ana.net/blogs/show/id/mm-blog-2020-02-micro-influencers-better-content

Solve, as they say, for the equilibrium.

Hint: if we should be making sure to “focus on micro-influencers in 2020”, who should we be focusing on in 2021? 2022? 2023?

In plain English, here is what is happening: the incentive to monetize your following goes up with the number of followers you have. Alas, the folks who have reached “influencer” status have monetized their following a little bit too much, to the extent that there has been, it would seem, an erosion of trust.

That erosion is apparently across the board – for all influencers. Not just a particular influencer. And so the conclusion is that we should not trust influencers altogether, but rather trust micro- and nano-influencers. But then advertisers will want to, well, influence micro- and nano-influencers to influence their followers, and down the spiral we go.


I will note two things:

  1. There are a little less than four thousand people who follow this blog, and I can assure you that I have not been paid to hawk any good or service on these pages.
  2. I am not sure if I am a micro or a nano influencer, but if my urging you makes the *slightest* difference, please, go and get yourself vaccinated! 🙂

In Memoriam: Robert Mundell

Robert Mundell passed away earlier this week. Most macroeconomics students will know of the Mundell-Fleming model, of course, while a lesser number may have heard of his work on optimum currency areas.

Here is a relatively old article about him from the New York Times:

”In the very short run, I’m a Keynesian,” he said. ”In the intermediate run, I’m a supply-sider, and in the long run I’m a monetarist.”

https://www.nytimes.com/1986/01/12/business/eccentric-economist-robert-a-mundell-supply-side-s-intellectual-guru.html

And here is a summary by The Economist on the impossible trilemma:

HILLEL THE ELDER, a first-century religious leader, was asked to summarise the Torah while standing on one leg. “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary,” he replied. Michael Klein, of Tufts University, has written that the insights of [[international macroeconomics]] (the study of trade, the balance-of-payments, exchange rates and so on) might be similarly distilled: “Governments face the policy trilemma; the rest is commentary.”

https://www.economist.com/schools-brief/2016/08/27/two-out-of-three-aint-bad)

Here is Paul Krugman, first rhapsodizing about the Optimum Currency Area1:

First up, Mundell, whose classic 1961 paper argued that a single currency was more likely to be workable if the regions sharing that currency were characterized by high mutual labor mobility. (He actually said factor mobility, but labor is almost surely the one that matters). How so?

https://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/24/revenge-of-the-optimum-currency-area/

.. and then rhapsodizing about Robert Mundell and his early theoretical work:

Those of us who work on international monetary theory have been wondering for a decade when Robert Mundell would get his richly deserved Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. Mundell’s work is so central to that field, so “seminal”–an overused term that really applies here–that on many disputed issues his ideas are the basis for both sides of the debate. But a layperson might be confused about exactly what Mundell and his prize are really about.

https://slate.com/business/1999/10/o-canada.html

This is the NYT obituary:

In his 2006 interview, he said that winning the Nobel “was particularly pleasing to me as my work has been quite controversial and no doubt stepped on a lot of intellectual toes.”
He added: “Even more than that, when I say something, people listen. Maybe they shouldn’t, but they do.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/05/business/economy/robert-mundell-dead.html

And finally, the Washington Post’s obit:

Dr. Mundell gave one of the more unusual — and crowd-pleasing — acceptance speeches in the history of the Nobel Prize. He ended his remarks by singing a few bars of the hit Frank Sinatra song “My Way,” an allusion to the independent-minded approach that he brought to his life and work.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/robert-mundell-dead/2021/04/06/36793d92-96d4-11eb-b28d-bfa7bb5cb2a5_story.html

RIP.

  1. This essay, along with the tables, used to be freely available on the NBER website. No longer, and I don’t know why. My apologies[]

Two articles from Bill Gates about Covid19 that are worth reading

The first is an AMA:

A therapeutic could be available well before a vaccine. Ideally this would reduce the number of people who need intensive care including respirators. The Foundation has organized a Therapeutics Accelerator to look at all the most promising ideas and bring all the capabilities of industry into play. So I am hopeful something will come out of this. It could be an anti-viral or antibodies or something else.

One idea that is being explored is using the blood (plasma) from people who are recovered. This may have antibodies to protect people. If it works it would be the fastest way to protect health care workers and patients who have severe disease.

And speaking of convalescent blood therapy, this is also worth reading:

A simple and medically feasible strategy is available now for treating COVID-19 patients, transfuse blood plasma from recovered patients. The idea is that the antibodies from the recovered patients will help the infected patients. The idea is an old one and has been used before with some success.

And this is the second article by Bill Gates, worth reading in full, and so I will not provide an excerpt. Consistently applied restrictions on movement across the entire country, a clear strategy on how to prioritize testing, and a clear plan on developing a treatment and a vaccine are the key takeaways. Applicable mostly to America, or written with America in mind, but really works across the entire planet. India has applied the first of these as well as she could have.