A while back, I wrote an article on what it means to be a contrarian. It’s someone who goes against the current and doesn’t just blindly follow the herd.
Since that time, the internet has exploded with people professing to be contrarians, but in fact using the same type of herd-mentality tactics and arguments that the average Joe or Jane usually fall for.
How do you distinguish between a real contrarian and a wanna-be contrarian? A real contrarian is someone who is a critical and rational thinker first and foremost. He is someone who is aware of his own cognitive biases and tries to overcome them.
Instead, the fake contrarians that are popping out from left, right, up, down and whatever other hole they were previously sitting in, are not only deeply unburdened by any sense of logic, they in fact actively try to exploit the cognitive biases of others.
It all started with click-bait
The internet has come onto the scene in the past two and a half decades and brought the average human access to vast stores of knowledge than any time previously in history.
However with that knowledge also came dangers.
Humans are fallible creatures easily tricked by their own emotions and it didn’t take long for internet marketers to take advantage of it.
In the early times of the internet, this was a bit harder to do. Yeah sure, there was advertising, but it consisted largely of static banners (and later annoying pop-ups), which while effective at getting money, were still relatively harmless.
A bunch of people did fall for those penis pump ads, but seriously the people who did were ripe for the Darwin Awards.
At that time, if you clicked on a website, or if you typed in a certain term in a search engine, you would be served the same banner ad or the same exact results as everyone else.
While at uni, I remember interviewing an exec of an online advertising company (the ones creating the banner ads) for one of my school projects. At the end of the interview he mentioned what the El Dorado of online advertising would be for him: people seeing the right ad at the right time.
I had a hard time imagining how that would work. In those days, you were still largely anonymous on the internet. Cookies were starting to make an appearance, but they collected relatively little significant data on you.
However, the times changed fast. The technology that was used got more sophisticated, the algorithms got tweaked and started to incorporate more and more user data (including their surfing habits) in order to get a more personalized experience.
There are many positives with that. Instead of getting all the standard ads you didn’t care about, you got things that might be of interest to you.
Also your search results became a bit more relevant to your own context and situation.
Yet, with all this you also started to get entrapped in your own little bubble. These things promoted different cognitive biases that your brain often falls for, chief of which being confirmation bias.
It wasn’t long before internet marketers started taking advantage of this state of affairs.