Trolls and Cognitive Bias

If you’ve been a BlackBerry fan for the past few years, you may have noticed how so many analysts, bloggers, pundits and other “talking heads,” have managed to find a negative slant to all the news coming out of Waterloo, regardless of how positive it may seem to a “fan.” This phenomenon is most egregious when it’s done by someone writing for a site that purports to be a BlackBerry fan site, but is equally aggravating when it’s done by someone with a big pulpit who’s supposed to be some kind of “expert.”


In a college interpersonal communications class, it was brought to my attention that our perception is not always rational or objective. There was a chapter in our textbook that described something called the “perceptual sieve,” which they described more or less as an inclination to perceive things a certain way, but specifically, to perceive information one is already disposed to perceive, and to ignore information one is not disposed towards or not open to or familiar with. This perceptual sieve is a form of what a social scientist would call a “cognitive bias.” A search of Wikipedia will highlight no less than 160 different kinds of cognitive biases, and after reviewing this list, I feel as if I don’t know if I can trust my mind at all! Some were based on perception, some on decision making and others on memory.


One common error in logic or cognitive miscue occurs when we get a new car and suddenly notice there are so many of that kind of car on the road, something a psychologist might call “observation selection bias.” This may also (very unfortunately) be at play when someone is in a car accident with a motorcyclist and they report (the vast majority of the time) that they “never saw the motorcyclist,” hence the bumper stickers you may have seen “watch for motorcyclists.” In these cases, people are basically looking for things they are familiar with and ignoring things they are not familiar with. There is also a form of cognitive bias called “confirmation bias,” which is defined as the tendency to accept evidence that confirms our beliefs and to reject evidence that negates our beliefs. Confirmation bias takes the perceptual sieve one step further in that, with the perceptual sieve phenomenon, someone simply does not notice information, but in confirmation bias, they notice the information, but they reject it. I’m including both here because either one can cause someone to draw a negative conclusion about BlackBerry.

Which brings me to my point. So many of these people have decided in their minds that “BlackBerry is dead” or whatever, and ignore information to the contrary, even when that information is very compelling and obvious to a fan who is actually looking for it. This happens to me constantly, where I hear about something and get excited, only to find out that some other blog site has spun it negatively. It’s certainly possible to say that as a fan, I ignore information that supports the hypothesis that BlackBerry will not recover, but candidly, I came from a site (as many of us have) that was quite actively pushing that hypothesis in a fairly systematic way. It wasn’t until I came over to UTB that my hope for BlackBerry’s future, turned into an expectation or belief, so I really don’t think any potential judgment of my perception being biased, would be accurate.


I think the Passport is a good example of this negative bias many have against BlackBerry and cognitive bias in general. When I first saw the device, I had my reservations. Being a FAN, I would not have blogged this opinion at the very least, until I felt more confident that my initial perception was accurate. But being a fan, even if I thought the device was ugly, I would not blog that opinion, but would blog about the functionality of the device and ignore the style. At UTB, we have defined being a fan as “liking BlackBerry, and wanting them to succeed,” so why would I spread a negative opinion about a device’s style when style is hardly an objective measure anyway? The point is, the more I learn about this device, the more I like it, and the more the style grows on me. However, it seems many of the other bloggers won’t give the phone a chance, and I believe it’s because their minds are closed and they suffer from one or more cognitive biases.


What’s my conclusion? On the one hand, it could simply be, “the haters are gonna hate, so let them,” which would be reasonable, given the knowledge that based on their cognitive biases, they will probably not change their minds. On the other hand, many of us refuse to allow the bloggers and talking heads who are spinning negative commentary about BlackBerry, to go unchallenged or to allow them to have the only public voice, so simply “letting the haters, hate,” is not an option. I guess, I’m not drawing a specific conclusion, but just trying to add some information to the community that may help you to understand our quarry a little better. All we can do is continue to be a voice for the positive information regarding BlackBerry and try and refute the negative info as best we can until Chen starts really marketing in the developed markets. When this happens, and more people become aware of the goodness that we all enjoy today, we’ll get some more device market share, leaving the trolls with no choice but to accept BlackBerry is back! And that time is coming!


P.S. This post was typed up on a BlackBerry Playbook with a BlackBerry bluetooth keyboard. Goodness!


james pisano

RIM/BB fan since 2009. Wouldn't consider entrusting my career, life or privacy to another platform. Foremost, I am a student of life. Some likes: longboarding, nature, Baltimore Orioles, technology, driving, music, reading and Taoism. Politically independent.