Super Brain Blog – Season 4 Episode 3

Super Brain Blog – Season 4 Episode 3

The Visibility Trap with Dr Mary McGill

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  •  00:23 – Mary talks about how she came to write The Visibility Trap
  • 02:30 – Gender-based abuse online
  • 07:24 – Frankenstein – the need for moral and ethical checks
  • 13:44 – Surveillance and self-monitoring 
  • 27:12 – Visibility and exposure
  • 33:04 – The female form 
  • 36:00 – Plundering life in search of novelty
  • 37:35 – Judgement is a spectacle on social media
  • 39:38 – Filters



The Visibility Trap by Dr Mary McGill

Guest Bio


Dr Mary McGill is a media studies lecturer and journalist based in Ireland. Described by the Sunday Business Post as “essential reading”, her first book, The Visibility Trap: Sexism, Surveillance and Social Media, was published by New Island Books in July 2021. Her research explores the complex ways young women engage with selfie-practices and how the rise of social media is changing the way we see ourselves online and beyond. She is a former Hardiman Scholar at the National University of Ireland, Galway, and a regular contributor and writer in the Irish media.




Over to You

What kind of selfies do you take? Do you feel judged on social media or do you find yourself judging others? Do you self-censor on social media or do you go live and unfiltered

Tune into Thursday’s booster episode where I’ll be taking a look at lockdown weight gain.

Don’t forget to share the episode on your social media.


Sabina Brennan  00:01

Hello, and welcome to Super brain, the podcast for everyone with a brain. My name is Sabina Brennan. And my guest this week is Dr. Mary McGill, a digital culture researcher, journalist and author of The Visibility Trap, a feminist guide to navigating self representation on social media. So you are Dr. Mary?


Mary McGill  00:23

Yeah, yes, I am. And again, oh Sabina, it was so funny. It’s been such a mad year. So basically, I had my Viva on March 4 2020. Viva, for people who don’t know is where you defend your PhD. And it’s pretty hair raising. Thankfully, mine went well. So I became a doctor. And but literally a week later, we went into lockdown. So it’s been, I don’t know how it feels for you. But for me, it’s felt like this constant sense of suspended animation, like you’re working, and you’re doing things, a lot of which you would normally do, but the circumstances are completely changed. And then you know, you write a book and it comes out. And it’s all I’m a doctor


Sabina Brennan  01:00



Mary McGill  01:01

Virtual, yeah I’m a doctor and I have a book and kind of none of it feels real.


Sabina Brennan  01:05



Mary McGill  01:05

So yeah, it’s been kind of wild. But I love doing events like this, because it helps make it feel that much more tangible. So yes, I am a doctor, doctor Mary McGill.


Sabina Brennan  01:14

Like, it is amazing that you literally did your Viva and published a book, which means then you were also writing the book, while you were doing your PhD. I mean, your PhD feeds into this book,


Mary McGill  01:25

It does, as you know, yourself a PhD is a very specific piece of work is for a very specific audience, which is the academia, has to meet various standards, all of which I love, because I’m a big nerd. And I really thrive in that environment. But when you’re kind of working in an area, like Media Studies, or indeed psychology, you know, you’re very often dealing with phenomena that are so current. And so in the process of researching my PhD, I was constantly coming across stuff that wasn’t quite right for that particular project, but certainly spoke to wider issues in the culture that I was observing, you know, through my work. And as a journalist as well, the obvious thing to do was to be like, Let’s keep this material when you have some breathing space –  hello, lockdown – And let’s put it all together and see what we get, ironically enough, sadly enough, that big shift to digital that was already well underway over the last 10 to 15 years.


Sabina Brennan  02:17



Mary McGill  02:17

But yeah, really accelerated from March 2020. And a lot of ways intensified the things that I wanted to write in the book, but then those things just took on a further life of their own once we entered this world,


Sabina Brennan  02:30

and one thing really jumps out to me that you said, and I will talk in more detail, but you had some facts somewhere in this amazing book, which is called The Visibility Trap, sexism, surveillance, and social media. And it is an absolute must read for anyone who’s on social media, but particularly women on social media. And I think men also to understand how differently social media impacts on women compared to men. But you did have one, and I’m sure you remember it, and I may state it slightly inaccurately. But that really surprised me. That was during the COVID-induced lockdown, incidences of online image-based sexual abuse of women increased in Europe.


Mary McGill  03:10

Oh, yeah.


Sabina Brennan  03:11

That’s incredible.


Mary McGill  03:13

Yeah, it is incredible. And you can extrapolate from that as well. Because that trend, image-based sexual abuse is obviously a part of it.  But If we just say, gender-based abuse, that takes place online or digital gender-based abuse, I mean, that across the globe, you know, this is not confined to any particular country or culture. This is a result of the shift to online living that happened from March 2020. And when it comes to image-based abuse, what’s particularly heinous about that is that even the threat of it can be absolutely devastating. So no images even need to be shared, necessarily. It’s just the fact that somebody has them and they have that control over you.


Sabina Brennan  03:51

So we’re talking about really sharing images that are meant for private consumption, Or, in fact, images that have been taken without the consent of the individual, or whatever, various forms, but they are images that are being shared without the person’s consent. But then also there is the issue of whether people then share their own images, and then someone reuses it. But anyway, it’s a very scary phenomenon. And as you just said there, the threat of that, because people do, particularly when it comes to romantic relationships, and I have done a podcast episode on Love, sex and the brain, you know, and essentially, when you’re in the throes of lust and love the very early stages, the brain switches off your frontal lobe. So you don’t think rationally, your ability to assess risk is reduced. Your decision making is compromised. I mean, love really is blind, and you are viewing that person through rose tinted glasses. They’re not just psychological phenomenon. They’re actually physiological, neurological changes that take place in your brain. And so you very easily, could feel that it’s very appropriate in that private context that the person is someone that you may be going to spend a long time with, and you’re madly in love with and you share images that are meant for that individual’s total and sole consumption, and then things change. And then actually, your frontal lobe may kick in, and you kind of go, Oh, this guy really isn’t for me. And oh, my God, he now has those images. And then there’s also the fear, then, you know, it’s like another form of emotional blackmail, in terms of ending relationships. Now, people actually have… people might in the past have made empty threats, of  “I’ll ruined your life” – ” you’ll never work here again”, or whatever. But actually, now I have images that could completely destroy your life. So it’s very, very scary.


Mary McGill  05:39

It is


Sabina Brennan  05:40

And would you agree, just when you were talking there about, you said, it transcends culture and country and borders and boundaries. And I mean, really, literally, we’re just kind of came to my mind is, the internet is another country that we all belong to, and it has its own culture, but culture that has evolved without any checks and balances in place, I feel very strongly that we need ethics, we need an ethical monitoring of the internet and new technology in a broader sense. Because for me, the internet and I use this word purposely, the internet exploded into our world, whatever, 31 years ago, or 32 years ago, and even the individual who invented it, would see that it is being used in ways that was not intended and has actually called for…., and acknowledged that it impacts more negatively on women and disempowers them and he wants it to be a space that’s free and available for all.  Then we have this culture within people who can develop these programs and softwares and have all those tools did stuff just because they could and I’m all for it, just do it. But without thinking about unintended consequences, as well as having dubious intended consequences. And I liken it to and that’s why I use the term explosion. It’s like the person who split the atom, nobody thought that the atom bomb was going to come from it and cause the devastation that it has and world changing effects. And I feel the same as here and I feel more of us need to speak up and say no, there has to be ethics, independent bodies put in and it’s not about censorship, it’s about actually exploring intended and unintended consequences and seeing how they could impact on the users.


Mary McGill  07:24

Yeah, at the end of the book, I write about a very old book called Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, which is a fantastic read on many levels. But when we talk about technologies  it’s kind of a shorthand, people often reach for it. And there’s varying interpretations of what Shelley was trying to say in that book. For me, the big takeaway is you have, you know, Victor Frankenstein, who creates the so called monster who wasn’t a monster to begin with, you know, he’s ultimately rejected by his father and, and leads a lonely existence and ends up doing all kinds of horrible things, particularly when it comes to Victor and Victor ends up destroying his own life through his own creation. And the challenge, I think, in that what Shelley was getting at, and don’t forget, she was alive, you know, in the 1800s, during the time in history, when the kind of modern world as we experienced it today was was basically the seeds for that were being sown right through technology and advancements and science and so on. But, you know, this is kind of a moral question there. But the responsibility of creation, like what are we going to create, how are we going to respond to that. Our ability to create is a magnificent thing. But it is bound to, you know, society, to the individual to our responsibility to each other, and of course, to the planet. And that raises all kinds of moral and ethical questions because if Victor Frankenstein had actually, while he was following his ego to create this being, he did this entirely on his own and, and with all this passion, and and he was working through grief and lots of difficult emotions as well. If he’d other people around him, who maybe would have said, “Is this the best idea, Victor?, if he’d had those conversationswith other people if he’d maybe thought ahead and tried to project? What it would be like for this being in the world or what his relationship would have been to this being and so on, perhaps we wouldn’t have had the tragic tale. Probably not as good as story, mind you, but we would have had the tragic tale that it ended up being. And I think those questions about the responsibility of creation, you know, not going blindly into it, having the humility to ask, What am I creating? What are the possible outcomes? Should I get somebody else’s advice about this, you know, and so on into the kind of questions really, the philosophers ask and ethicists asked, and if I could click my fingers in the morning, you know, and go back 10 or 15 years, I would love to have seen a situation where long before these products ever got into our hands or got into our phones. They were trialed at the design stage, not just by engineers, who, mean wellare just designing products.


Sabina Brennan  09:50

Yeah, but they’re just looking at whether it does what it’s meant to do, as opposed to the impact that it can have on human beings who are going to use it.


Mary McGill  09:59

Exactly. And so what you want ideally, is if these technologies have enough good stuff in them that we want to keep them around, and not forgetting, you know that, it feels like they’ve been here quite a long time and the grand scale of things they really haven’t, you need to get to a place where you have. long before that they are unleashed, you have people in that system that can temperate it,  that bring a range of perspectives, everything from you know, as he said, ethics, psychology, media policy, all of these things. Of course, in children’s welfare, all of these things, so that when these products finally get into the marketplace, they’re built in such a way that the potential harms are…., you can never completely remove risk, and they’ll always be an element of personal responsibility, but the capacity for harm is greatly reduced. And along with that, then you need a kind of a change in cultural approach to how we understand the role of these technologies,


Sabina Brennan  10:58

Essentially, you know, how our brain has evolved over millions of years is what has given us this advantage and the ability to produce things like the internet. But throughout that evolutionary history, the tools that we have created, shape our brains, so always everything that we do, and that’s what I’m passionate about sort of explaining to people. Your brain is the master controller in the sense of your behavior. So is your behavior, your behavior shapes your brain, so it’s a bi directional relationship. So for me, I mean, I’m a massive user of the internet. And I cannot imagine writing books without being able to access journal articles online. And there’s incredible benefits to it. But it is the unintended consequences, and the failure to acknowledge that this tool, this internet, that social media is changing human beings, not just I mean, I know we’re aware of things like the psychological impact, and people actually being driven to suicide, Caroline Flack, in a way comes to mind, you know, obviously, she had other issues kind of going on. But you know, these things contribute in terrible ways and destroy people’s lives in very real ways. So what is it doing to us as a species? How is that kind of changing? That that kind of stuff has to be considered. And, like, I think it’s kind of crazy that it’s not, we do not allow medication to be produced without it going through so many clinical trials. And yes, and I do think this comes from the failure to understand actually how the human brain is influenced by behavior, and how the human brain functions. And you do touch on various amounts of these things in terms of our need for social approval, you know, to be part of a group, like, as you said, the internet’s only around for maybe whatever, it is not even a second in the history of humanity, and our brain has evolved to need social contact to need social approval, we must make sure that we abide by the social rules within our group or environment, because if we don’t, we risk being ostracized, and humans do not do well, in isolation, And again, being isolated changes how your brain functions, etc. So our ancient brain is operating and following those instincts of “I must be part of this group”. But these aren’t groups, you’re actually really part of, they don’t exist. However, the impact of them could ostracize you in a way that is much bigger than being ostracized from the actual group within which you live physically, it actually has these tentacles that can reach in and cause you to lose your job and lose your mental health and well being in so many ways. It’s phenomenal.


Sabina Brennan  13:44

Sexism, surveillance, and social media is that tagline to the visibility trap. So I would love to talk to you, first of all, the title of the book, and then to actually talk about surveillance. I mean, surveillance is a concept that prior to my going to university, I only thought of it in terms of security and surveillance cameras. Then when you study psychology, you understand surveillance in a very different way. And it can include self monitoring, and all those kinds of things. So I’d like us to sort of talk about that in very real and concrete terms. And the book does that guy’s like, it’s grounded in very solid research and science that crosses multiple disciplines. That’s what’s very nice,


Sabina Brennan  14:19

you don’t just sort of stay within your own discipline, the research is from multiple disciplines, but it’s told in a very accessible way and very real way in that you will be able to relate it to what you’re actually doing on social media. And while you’re doing it. So I want to start at the outset of the book you do invoke philosopher Michel Foucault, the French philosopher who actually really in a way said that visibility is a trap. Would you explain because you do it very well in the book, historian and where it comes from prison, and that observation, and another lovely new word panopticism. Mary is going to tell us


Mary McGill  14:19



Mary McGill  14:57

Yes, I’m going to go for it and Sabina for being so enthusiastic, it’s just so lovely. So panopticism, yes, Foucault was taking an idea that had been developed by the Victorian social reformer Jeremy Bentham, essentially a design for an ideal prison. And what made this prison ideal was how effective it was in terms of surveillance. So at it’s center, you had a tower, where the guards could look into the cells, which circled the tower. And from the tower, they could see directly into any cell at any given time. And what this, in theory, would produce in the prisoners is a sense that, because they were never sure if and when they were being watched, they behaved at all times as if they were being watched at all times. I think Foucault writes that it’s like being in a cage, that is its own kind of like theater stage that has great visuals in that particular chapter, the chapter is called Panopticism, you don’t have to make a massive leap from those ideas to the nature of platform capitalism. And the way that social media works. We are part of the allure of these platforms is that we get to be visible, right, we get to be seen by other people far outside our normal network of people. And we in turn, get to see things we wouldn’t otherwise see. We get to share ideas, we get to talk and we get to watch as well, which is a big appeal. But the problem is that all of this visibility, up until this point has been sold to us very much as a net good. As something that we can use to thrive, the positives are always weigh out the negatives. So we’ve got to a point now in a culture where we are beginning to reassess those assumptions. And when you think about surveillance, as you said, quite rightly, we normally associated with George Orwell, the notion of Big Brother, it’s usually the state, or companies, corporations, or the police that are involved in surveillance. But there’s another type of surveillance now that has arisen because of the way that we use technology, and particularly social media, usually referred to as social surveillance. So people look at each other in life all the time. And there may be, you know, a degree of surveillance involved in that. But this kind of mainstreaming of surveillance is with precendent. I mean, we are watching and being watched as individuals in ways that used to be reserved, really for the most visible people in the culture. Soreally politicians and celebrities. Now everybody who has a social media platform is engaging to a greater or lesser extent, in some form of image management, you know, for want of a better word, we’re pre empting how other people see us, we’re taking those ideas that the platform’s put forward of what a popular person is, or a good person is, and we’re tailoring our self representations, so as to benefit from this visibility out, of course, at all times to avoid the trap. Because this is very on certain terrain, Sabina, as much as we can enjoy visibility, it can also be a very difficult thing to navigate, particularly when you’re trying to reproduce yourself and represent yourself in a way that meets the criteria for whatever platform or culture you’re involved in, or want to appeal to, or maybe doesn’t feel representative of who you are. And yet these representations are taken increasingly, as who we are, right, your LinkedIn is who you are, your Twitter profile is who you are. And I know as a psychologist, you’re going ‘Of course it isn’t’. And I’ve been as a media theorist and cultural scholar, I’m going ‘Of course it isn’t’. However, we have grown up in a world where most people don’t have access to the education that enables them to navigate these spaces with the awareness that a representation is a representation. It’s always qualified, it’s always constructive. It’s always in negotiation, it is not the real thing. And even when people and a lot of people who spend a lot of time online and I kept myself one of them, and I have the benefit of research and education in this area, even when you know, there’s a difference between intellectually knowing and emotionally knowing. And these technologies engage our emotion in ways that…. people don’t passively consume media. And people think, oh, you just sit down, you watch the television, and there’s nothing going on there. When you actually talk to people about the way we consume media in general, you know, it can be quite more complicated than assumptions would lead you to believe. But this is a whole other world, right? So you can know that you’re navigating a space that is ‘a hall of mirrors and is not real’, quote unquote. But on an emotional level, it can still take a significant toll because it taps into something I think you know, what you were saying earlier on about wanting to connect and wanting to be seen. I mean, I always talk about earliest ancestors painted their hands on the walls of caves and we can still see I was, you know, and I always think of technology as any tool that allows human beings to kind of master their environment. And I think there’s something profound and beautiful in our long standing desire to want to represent ourselves and leave a mark and say ‘I was here,’ I think that’s a beautiful thing. But I think we’ve entered a space now where we’re so used to seeing representations. And at the same time, not being equipped to be like, we’ve entered this world of images, but we need to remain rooted in something more solid, and more secure than that.


Sabina Brennan  20:35

There’s so many things come to mind when I listen to you speak. And while I was reading the book, and I think it’s one of those books that people can kind of come back to again, and again.  And there’s a couple of things. So our desire to be seen, just in terms of an individual, like anybody who’s had a mother, you know, look at me, Mommy, look at me, Mommy, look at me, Mommy, lookwhat I’m doing your mommy, look at me mommy,


Sabina Brennan  20:54

You know, I’m a firm believer that all of these things have, they’ve survived because they serve a purpose. So it is very important for an infant to remind their mother that they’re there. Because they need to be fed, they need constant interaction for their brain to develop, because those early years are hugely important, like babies have more brain cells than adults. But in order for the really well working, healthy brain to develop, they have to have the interaction and learn how to be human. So that’s one thing that kind of jumps to mind. And then another thing that comes to mind from childhood, the equivalent having grown up without any of these things, was that sense. And I have a real strong memory of this being in one of the cubicle toilets in primary school. And we must have just had a catechism lesson. So for anyone listening, who’s not in Ireland, in holy Catholic Ireland, when I grew up catechism, which is the study of Catholicism, you had a class of it every single morning from primary school to –  talk about brainwashing. That’s a whole other area. –  But we obviously just had a lessons about that God can always see what you’re doing. So for me, that was probably my first experience of surveillance. And I remember sitting there and going, Oh, is Holy God, watching me now? Is Holy God watching me now, That’s a terrible thing to do to children. I mean, certainly growing up in a strongly Catholic family, it was a case of Oh is Holy God watching me now. And I think that’s what really comes through from evoking the panoptimism, that prison analogy, it’s really true, because what we have done is created a prison. And people talk about saying, Well, I’m going to go offline for a while or online. But even when you’re not online, your brain is thinking, like, you go for a walk, and you go, that would make a fabulous photo for social media. It’s there. It’s everywhere. Oh, I’d love to take a selfie now, but I can’t I see it, I’ve put my hands up here, I will see it here. Like I’ve been talking to a social media person, I’m now working the gig economy, the university, my research can no longer take place. As you know, as a researcher, you get funding to do X amount of research. And my latest project was for four years, and it can’t happen. And so I am fully now working in the gig economy. And so I need to find ways to earn a living to keep a roof over my head as everyone does. And so you kind of go, Okay, I need to really build my social media presence, but at least I’m very focused to know Okay, well, I want to get more corporate wellness talks. I want to get more people to buy my books, more people to listen to my podcast. So I kind of know, right, I have to have a focus. But like, one of the things and I talking to someone is that they say, Oh, you need more visibility. And I said, Well, no, I share my this and I put quotes up and I do that. No, you your face needs more visibility they need whoever they are, need to see you regularly need to put up three reels a week of you sharing your brain health tips. Now, for me, that’s fine. I could do 100 reels a week on that, or I could write up so many things to say, but I haven’t been doing it. And I’ll tell you why. And I’m being very honest here is because I would have to put my face on. And I feel I would have to put my best face forward, I’ve gained a bit of weight because of COVID. I don’t particularly want to have that out there that every time I look at it, I go Oh god, look, that’s where I had the extra six kilos. And I’m not yet in that space where I feel I can go and do it bare faced Having said that, I had just re read one of your chapters this morning. And I said okay, I won’t put the full makeup. I put a little bit of tinted moisturizer and some lipstick and a little bit of eye makeup and kind of left it at that. You see the problem is with now you see you’re seeing yourself all the time on social media. So yeah, we have this tendency to judge. So even as you said, even though I know these things, and I know these traps, the way I put it is I am a human being first and foremost before I am any of those other things a psychologist or a neuroscientist and while you made that distinction between the emotions and sort of our thinking and the brain evolved, we really kind of have three interlinked brains. So the oldest from an evolutionary perspective is the reptilian brain that keeps us alive, breathing, digesting stuff you don’t have to think about the next to evolve is the limbic system, which is often referred to as the emotional brain, because that’s where it handles our emotions. But it is unconscious. That’s the key, it evolved to manage fight or flight. That’s one of its primary things, but also learning and memory occurs there in a very unconscious way. Then we have our thinking brain, which is the brain that a lot of us think about as being our brain. And that’s where things and misnomers that we decide to do things, we don’t always decide to do them sometimes that decision making is retrospective, we are already, if you look at neurons firing, we’re already moving to do something before the message reaches our conscious brain where you say, Oh, I’m going to do this, your brain has access to billions of bits of data, it processes millions of bits of data every second, but you only consciously process by 30 or 40 bits. So that unconscious brain, it’s not just emotional, I think that’s the distinction I would make. Because learning and memory happens in there too. So you learning about how the world works. But it is unconscious behavior, that you do have the capacity to override. That’s really what’s important. But it is shaping an awful lot of our behaviors. And the thing is where I feel the biggest inequity comes is that the people who have developed social media, and the internet and all those things, they understand how that part of your brain works. And they manipulate us very well. That’s when the inequity occurs, because most people do not understand that. And that, for me is one of my passions is to help people understand that. So that you realize actually, okay, and also just because I’m doing that unconsciously, doesn’t mean I have no choice I do. But I need to understand what and why and why factors are influencing why I’m doing that. And if you understand that, then you might actually realize, Oh, actually, I don’t need social media to do that. Actually, social media is what’s making me feel anxious and depressed.


Mary McGill  27:12

It’s interesting isn’t that you know, when you’re when you’re talking about the advice that you received to make yourself visible. And I think what gets lost in well meant advice like that is something that is inherent to visibility is exposure. And exposure can be a very ambivalent experience, something else that’s critical to surveillance and why surveillance is useful, and compelling, and sometimes very dangerous is the issue of control. Right? So those prisoners, the guard wasn’t inside their door, right? He wasn’t there with the baton and getting ready to give them a whack. But nevertheless, they felt his presence, whether or not it was there. So this was a very…. This is what for Foucault was arguing about in relation to the way that citizens and other institutions were beginning to control their citizens. So away from the guillotine away from the Stocks, to a type of control where the citizen actually enacts it on themselves, in anticipation of getting in trouble.


Sabina Brennan  28:14

Yeah, yeah.


Mary McGill  28:14

And so on social media, this notion of visibility, you cannot make yourself visible without some degree of vulnerability, and judgment, because these places are absolutely riven with invitations to judge both yourself and other people, and often in a way that is very reactive, and not at all kind of, you know, reflective or thoughtful or anything like that. But what you get with control is and control is very closely tied to visibility, certain narratives of control, we’re told that these technologies give us more control over our image than ever before. And in certain respects, that is true, they do. But they also remove control in ways that are absolutely terrifying. Because while you watch the television, the television wasn’t watching, you. And it didn’t have the capacity to turn around and input or take what you had inputted into it, and distributed across the world in seconds. Yeah. And that’s the reality of what social media and the internet today can do. And so you get this real, kind of, I suppose, push pull effect, we’re on the one hand, yes, visibility, if you’re a self employed person, I’m a journalist, and of course, you’re going to share your work, you’re going to share things that you’re interested in, that makes total sense. But in amongst all that sharing are, you know, significant elements that you cannot control, that are kind of unknowable. And that may come back at you and this notion of the trap again, in ways that you could never have anticipated. And when they do, and the book has so many examples of this. We have allowed these technologies to get so far ahead of us that when these downsides happen, and they happen to women in very specific ways. There’s often nowhere to turn. Yeah. And the culture has not advanced to the point where instead of having sympathy for people who find themselves in these horrendous situations, the enticement, the the the expectation is still that you would judge.


Sabina Brennan  30:04



Mary McGill  30:05

Rather than be like, how have we let this happen that I mean, we must be better than this.


Sabina Brennan  30:09

I think the control thing and the prison thing, you use a quote, I think it’s from Lisa McInerney, when she’s talking about I think it’s the incident in Slane which was, for listeners, which was at a concert where somebody filmed a girl engaging in a sexual act with a male, and it was all over social media, etc. And she was judged. And then there was this panic when it was discovered, she was actually under 18. And, you know, sort of pulled back and all the rest, but the immediate thing was blaming the female. And anyway, aside from everything that’s wrong about that, there is the judgment, and people making judgments. And I think that’s important to understand that, like, our brain constantly makes judgments, you know, it is making patterns. It’s constantly figuring out where does that belong? How do I feel about that? What if? and those stories and those judgments an awful lot of them are embedded from our childhood. So I mean, I remember writing before about a piece that actually Rosin Ingle had written in the paper, and it was during the abortion referendum, and I was trying to get across a message. And I think sometimes actually, what I said was misunderstood, as can easily happen. But the point I was making was, I supported the campaign I supported RosIn’s article that she had written about But one line in her article, she had said she was divorced, okay, now, I think divorce is fabulous, and should be allowed. However, I was brought up in a Catholic family, where divorce had negative connotations. And while I had self awareness when I was reading that article, that when I read that I went, ‘Oh, she was a divorcee’ like that, that had something that I had been brainwashed in right back. And the letter that I’d written to the newspaper was, we need to be careful of our implicit biases that we’re not aware of. Now, I think some people took it up that I was judging her because she was divorced or whatever. The truth of the matter was, I had an implicit bias, but at least I was able to recognize that and override it and the reason I wrote the letter was to say beware of your implicit biases. There’s so many of them that we don’t realize that we have the Lisa McInerney, in response to that lovely line, she said, ‘different perfumes, same shit’. And she was bringing the analogy to social media, compared to religious control of women. And the thing is, women have been controlled for millennia, using various means. And I see religion as a way to do that. It’s that self control you self-monitor what you should be allowed to do what you shouldn’t be allowed do. And I do think your chapter in particular around the surveillance is very interesting. We watch ourselves, we watch others, while technology watches all of us and the internet never forgets. And it is the thought that was just you know, your writing is fabulous. And saying those sorts of things really kind of strikes home. And there’s a good few stories in the book. For example, those that one Miranda, is it the school teacher,


Mary McGill  33:03

Lauren Miranda


Sabina Brennan  33:04

yeah, did a selfie of herself topless, sunbathing, very innocuous one or whatever. And some pupil in the school found it parents got wind of it –  long story short, she was sacked and lost her job, because she took a photo years ago of herself with consent. And there’s that whole thing as you said, nipples aren’t allowed. And I think that’s the problem, in that nobody wants a conversation anymore. People just want to cancel other people and virtue signaling. But I just believe that this is how we affect change. And we moved from black and white to nuance. But since then we have moved to a bifurcation to just black and white, you’re either with us or against us. And if it’s on one single opinion, that means you as a person as an individual ceases to exist, because you have one opinion that differs from another person. And that has impacted on my behavior, in that I feel very passionate about a lot of things. I no longer engage on Twitter about things that are controversial, that I feel strongly about, because I know that you can’t get that subtlety that is so important for change to happen. That does not come across on Twitter, even if you do people will just pick out the first phrase without the a qualifying phrase or something like that. And so I have stopped which means then that you have this not only do you have an echo chamber, but you have a chamber that is missing some very important strong views that people have self-censored. I’ve never felt more censored in my life. Since I’ve had the freedom to reach millions of people online. There’s a wonderful piece in the book where it’s the body positive movement and you’re talking about the body positivity movement and fat excess And basically, that took off. And the people who sort of instigated that movement feel that what it’s seen as now has nothing to do with the reason that they set the movement up. So most people think that body positivity and fat acceptance is about, you know, be comfortable in who you are, love who you are, accept yourself. But actually, it was about highlighting the barriers that exist to people of different shapes, and sizes, which has a purpose, to affect change. But now it’s been diluted into this thing that actually won’t affect change and can actually be detrimental to some people, you have a fantastic way to really illustrate some of these very important factors that I think are lost. There’s a lot of people think they’re doing good. And they’re repeating these really nice phrases and saying, but they’re not living it or even actually understanding it,


Mary McGill  36:00

it has to do, a lot of the time, with the nature of the platform’s themselves, because we don’t think of them when we’re using them as businesses, but they are a business. This is fundamentally what they do. And capitalism has a long history, because it relies on novelty for growth, it’s always looking for something new. So we’ll take things that people are interested in. And people are very interested in social movements. And it will take elements of them. And it will repackage them usually by removing the politics and making them far more palatable for a general audience or consumer. And that will then come to stand for whatever had been this probably quite radical movement. So you get this really watered down version in the mainstream, and social media plays into and intensifies those trends. Because, it, probably more than any other form of media before is so reliant on novelty, because it relies on content, it never closes, it needs new stuff all the time. So it’s constantly plundering all kinds of areas of life in order to drum up something that’s new, something that captures human attention, for however long it manages to do that. And so these platforms as well, you know, in how they kind of neuter, social movements sometimes, because there is space there, I think, definitely to do good work. But they’re also you know, you were talking about judgment earlier on. I lots of time prior to social media, people judge, as they say, all the time. But there was often a kind of an unspoken process or an internal process of a very virtual process, and may be quite intimate process only known to the individual or people close,


Sabina Brennan  37:35



Mary McGill  37:35

whatever. Now, judgment is a spectacle. He is hardwired into platforms themselves in terms of what you like, or share, or of course don’t like it, or don’t share this example. People are talking about their opinions all the time, the endless discourse that occurred, I mean, for me, now, I’m like, what…  there’s the event, or the product, whether it’s a film or television show, or whatever the case may be, and then there is the endless discourse that just goes on and on, about or, or about events, or news or so on. Judgment is something that is the type of content itself. So yes, it’s encouraged, because we judgie and judgie and judgie and, but the thing is, we enter into these spaces, we’re both judging and being judged. And that can be light and superficial and fun. But it can also be absolutely terrifying, and confusing, and stressful, really stressful. And also judgmental behavior is often critical behavior. And it’s not particularly kind behavior. And it’s the type of behavior that actually isolates people rather than building communities or Coalition’s or a sense of reciprocity, even with people who you disagree with. And so by fostering our natural inclination to judge and in some cases, not just fostering it, like, literally shovelling coal into the fire, when you think of outrage and everything else, these platforms, they might not cause these impulses, but they certainly exacerbate them. I always think that rather than appealing to the angels of our better nature, they appeal to the angels of our worse. Now, what would it look like if we had a technology or different types of technologies that tried to do the opposite? You know, I mean, you know, I’m not for censorship or anything like that, but just technologies that had developed with an awareness…. that aren’t reliant on exploiting the worst parts of humanity in order to make a profit.


Sabina Brennan  39:28

But here’s the really interesting thing. This just occurred me so forgive me as I’m just articulating this straight away. So our brain has evolved. It is an information processing machine. That is what it does, it requires data. Your brain has evolved the frontal lobes here, which are a filter system, okay. And I think it’s so funny, and this literally has just occurred to me. So social media, Instagram in particular, we have this whole issue of creating an approved version of ourselves. And I say approved rather than An improved version of ourselves using filters. But what then the likes of Twitter do is actually remove the filters that our brain has evolved to preserve us, right, we have those filters, so that you don’t turn around and tell your best friend, God, you look really fat and ugly at the moment, or your hair is terrible, or whatever. And forgive my you know, if that’s sort of an Non-PC comment, but that actually is the point of your filtering system, you will have those thoughts and make those judgments. But your frontal lobe says, Don’t say that, that will ruin your relationship or find another way to say it, if you’re concerned about somebody’s health, or find a different way to deal with it, maybe suggest hair colors or…, you know, in a very different way. And so we have this amazing system that preserves our relationships, and generally serves us very well. And the filter is gone. And it’s like, we go straight from the thoughts onto the keyboard. And we bypass our rational thinking brain, and that’s not good, you’re actually sort of regressing to a previous form of being human that we evolved out of. Sorry, that just kind of came to me, but it is true. We’re unfiltered in our responses. And we need to filter again and start thinking about other people, because empathy and those things are just out the window. People say such nasty stuff. But I guess where my fear is going to now is that people, certainly when there are groups, I don’t think it happens when there’s individuals. But now when there are groups who go from online to offline, they, in the comfort of the group feel comfortable, engaging in hate speech, or whatever. And I think that’s where we’re in trouble. And that’s what we saw with the storming of the White House and horrible actions. That’s what scares me is that that online…, that is changing human behavior, human behavior that has served as well. So engaging in unfiltered behavior. And it’s very easy to turn around and say to people, oh, they’re uneducated, or they’re this or that. And we do know that there’s certain correlations in terms of who will believe in fake news and who will be victims of conspiracy theory, believing them, etc. But putting all that down to lack of education or lack of intelligence is incorrect, I believe anyway, a lot of it is permissiveness. And the switching off of those filters, because those people did have filters in past because they kind of behaved as humans. So it’s very scary. I want to move on. But there’s just so much to talk about this book that I think we actually need two episodes so I’m going to leave you lovely listeners to get your head around what we’ve spoken about so far, on social media. Are you shocked? Surprised? Maybe you knew it all already? Whatever. I’d really love to hear your thoughts. And do Tune in next week and listen to myself and Mary continue our conversation about social media, including discussing its puritanical attitude to the female body in some, but not other circumstances. My name is Sabina Brennan, and you’ve been listening to Super brain the podcast for everyone with a brain.


Sabina Brennan  43:13

Super brain is a labor of love born of a desire to empower people to use their brain to thrive in life and attain their true potential. Please help me to reach as many people as possible by sharing this episode, or by simply liking or rating the show. Imagine if we could get to a million downloads by word of mouth alone. I believe it’s possible. I believe that great things happen when lots of people do little things. So you really can help to achieve this ambitious dream to get a million downloads. Oh, and don’t forget to subscribe to Super Brain that helps too Visit for additional content, including images and videos related to this episode and a transcript of the show. Follow me on Instagram @SabinaBrennan and on Twitter at @Sabina_Brennan. I am grateful as always, to my exceptional editor Emily Burke, to my fascinating guests and to my listeners. Thank you for tuning in.


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