5 minutes with… The inspiration for CSI: Cyber Mary Aiken

You’ve probably seen Mary Aiken on TV, or at least an Oscar winner playing her. She’s the inspiration behind Patricia Arquette’s character on CSI: Cyber and is a producer and writer on the show. Mary is joining us at Web Summit…

Mary is a cyberpsychologist and director of RCSI‘s CyberPsychology Research Centre. She specialises in virtual criminal profiling and cyber behavioural analysis and is leading an international research project with INTERPOL and the police forces in Ireland, the UK, Australia and the US. 

Before her talk at Web Summit’s Society Summit, we talked to Mary about online behaviour, and Patricia Arquette’s dramatisation of her work:

How hard is it to determine whether someone is a potentially dangerous character when considering their everyday social media use?

There is a great paper on this subject called Trolls just want to have fun. If you like to use social media to make fun of, or troll others, then perhaps you should think again: this research argues that trolling is in fact a “manifestation of everyday sadism”.

How good a job has Patricia Arquette done at picking up your mannerisms? Do you see yourself in her character?

I try not to reflect too much on being portrayed in a primetime TV show by an oscar winning actress. It’s just a little surreal. I contribute to the dialogue, so yes I do see glimpses of myself in the character.

When friends or colleagues watch the show they often point to a particular look or mannerism and say: ‘Mary, that was just like you.’

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You’ve said that your work studies “the impact of emerging technology on human behaviour”. Broadly speaking, has social media had a positive or negative effect on human behaviour?

Technology in itself is not good or bad. It simply mediates behaviour, therefore it is either used well or poorly by humans.

Is the issue of cyberbullying and generally malicious online behaviour dealt with adequately under Irish law, or is further legislation like the Harmful and Malicious Electronic Communications Bill necessary?

I am afraid that I would have to write an entire academic paper to answer this question. A more interesting and briefer point is as follows: real world bullying is a serious problem in terms of detection – a nasty insult in the playground, an unseen malicious punch.

Paradoxically, cyberbullying is nothing but digital evidence. Just how did we get to a point where it has become a bigger problem than traditional bullying?


Who do you think is the greatest living Irish person?

I was invited to a dinner in Washington with (Watergate journalist) Bob Woodward a few days ago. It was an unbelievable experience to spend an evening with such a brilliant man – what an incredible investigative mind.

His wife Elsa who organised the dinner is part Irish, so just at the moment I would like to nominate Elsa.

Join Mary at Web Summit. Pick up your ticket.

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