NTNU author of the month: Jan Frode Haugseth

Jan Frode Haugseth, PhD in sociology at NTNU, is writing the book Sosiale medier i samfunnet [Social Media in Society], to be published in summer. He believes that social media are now functioning in harmony with society's demands for personalized information.

Jan Frode Haugseth, PhD in sociology at NTNU. Foto: Rune Geisnes.

After teaching about digital and social media at NTNU for a year, Haugseth saw the need for a good book on the subject from a sociological perspective. He wrote a rough draft of the book's first chapter and sent it to the Norwegian academic publisher Universitetsforlaget. The response was positive.

"Social media are still a new phenomenon, and sound knowledge about a subject lags behind its development. Plenty of attention has been paid to network-oriented perspectives. Previous research about the Internet was concerned about the community dimension, which has been less focused on social media. A third track relates to democracy, participation and mobilization, where good research is now starting to emerge," says Haugseth.


Defining media
"Some of the point of this book is to place the three different tracks in perspective to each other, and to write a well-rounded discussion about social media. My contribution is that I create definitions that tie all these aspects together from a historical perspective, and try to capture the social essence that is specific to media. For example, SMS is not part of the social media. I think of it as personal communication, and in that definition there is an aspect of public access that creates interesting effects that one can delineate and discuss," says Haugseth.


He believes that SMS has the same function as the telegram of days gone by; it is just more efficient. The social media are brand new, and they are being referred to as individual mass communication; a way to restrict information to larger or smaller groups.


 "It has been said that social media played an important role during the Arab Spring – but at the same time it is important to remember that the traditional media may have played a greater role. In Egypt, mobile phone networks and access to the Internet were quickly blocked, but people carried on gathering in demonstrations. Although social media might initially have been the spark that turned into a flame, the source of the spark was there all the time in the form of the frustration of a people," says Haugseth.


Answers to questions and needs
"I received good feedback, and I carried on writing while I was completing my doctoral degree at NTNU. The topic of social media is a pervasive phenomenon in our time, so it is important to have scientific literature about the media as a social phenomenon. Several representations of the phenomenon have shortcomings — among others, the fact that they are created by humans, and by many different actors," says Haugseth.


He points out that social media are created by the actors who produce them, such as Google and Facebook, but also that users have had an influence. He believes that social media today provide a response to many questions and needs that have been requested by a variety of actors. Traditional media that used to be critical have now embraced social media, and this has been important to the process.


Facebook involved everyone
"I have devoted a chapter in the book to describing the historical process of how different actors asked questions and sought a better version of the Internet before the new millennium. It's the ordinary everyday users, newspaper and media companies and organizations, who need tools to communicate effectively. Earlier, the Internet was too static and difficult for ordinary people to influence. Social media are now functioning in harmony with society's demands for the ability to personalize information," says Haugseth.


He explains that Facebook was the first of the social media to be simple enough to involve everyone, and that Facebook has always been good at updating its services while keeping the basic functionality that attracted people.
"The book will be sold as a textbook, but I hope people will think it is interesting in other contexts - not simply as part of the syllabus. It is the first book that attempts to describe trends in society in relation to social media," says Haugseth.



[Text and photo: Rune Geisnes]

[Translated by Margaret Forbes]