NEWS 2013

Social Media Expert Named to Chair

Eszter Hargittai named Delaney Family Research Professor

Hargittai and others
From l.: Communication Dean Barbara O'Keefe, Eszter Hargittai, April
McClain-Delaney, and Congressman John Delaney celebrate the investiture.

Communication studies researcher and IPR associate Eszter Hargittai was invested as the April McClain-Delaney and John Delaney Research Professor in an April 29 ceremony at Northwestern University’s School of Communication.

Hargittai traced the “path of unexpected events” that led her to becoming one of the nation’s leading experts on social media research, including winding up at a college for her undergraduate degree that did not have a major in the topic that she loved, communication studies. So she majored in sociology and surrounded herself with wonderful mentors. She recalled how they supported her passion to study “this thing that was called the Internet,” laughing about how back then she used to have to define what it was in each paper she wrote.

Her record is that of a “truly superlative scholar,” said Robert Hariman, professor and chair of communication studies, where she is a professor. Hargittai’s research has been published in top communication, computer, and sociology journals, with a key focus on the social and policy implications of information technologies. In particular, she examines how digital media might contribute to or alleviate social inequality. Her many projects have looked at differences in how people use the Web; social network sites and search engines; how variables like gender, race and socioeconomic status influence people’s Internet skills and technology usage; and research methodology for the digital age, among others.

“The Internet has been heralded as the great equalizer, but empirical evidence seems to suggest that this is not necessarily true,” Hargittai said.

The chair was established by April McClain-Delaney, a graduate of the School of Communication, John Delaney, and their family. McClain-Delaney is the director of the Washington, D.C., branch of Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing families with trustworthy information and education on children’s media consumption. Her husband, John, is the U.S. Representative for Maryland’s 6th Congressional District. They have four daughters, one of whom currently attends Northwestern.

Hargittai, who has worked with over 50 undergraduates in her research group on various projects, said how grateful she was to have the chair, as it would allow her to engage more undergraduates in research. 

“Moving forward, I am excited to continue studying the social and policy implications of digital media and the increasingly complex ways in which digital media intertwine with our lives,” Hargittai said.

The article contains excerpts from an April 29 press release. Photo by Justin Barbin.