Professor Ellen Helsper

Professor Ellen Helsper

Professor of Digital Inequalities

Department of Media and Communications

020 7955 6420
Room No
Room FAW.7.01E
Office Hours
By appointment on Student Hub
Connect with me

Dutch, English, Spanish
Key Expertise
Digital inequalities

About me

Ellen Helsper is Professor of Digital Inequalities in the Department of Media and Communications at LSE, where she also serves as Doctoral Programme Director for the Department's PhD Programmes. Her current research interests include the links between social and digital inequalities; mediated interpersonal communication; participatory immersive digital spaces (VR, ER); and quantitative and qualitative methodological developments in media and communications research.

The three main research projects she is involved in are the From Digital Skills to Tangible Outcomes; the Global Kids Online and the Connected Cities and Inclusive Growth projects.  Other studies she has been involved in include the Impact of marketing through social media, online games and mobile applications on children's behaviour; the World Internet Project, Wisekids Wales; Youth at risks and ICTs; Social Impacts of ICT; Net Addiction; Me, My Spouse and the Internet; and Online Gambling.

Ellen holds positions as a Visiting Scholar at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, the Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile, and the Centro Regional de Estudos para o Desenvolvimento da Sociedade da Informação Latino America ( She has held similar positions at Microsoft research in Boston, NYU Steinhardt’s department of Media, Culture and Communications, the University of Twente and the University of Oxford. Ellen consults widely for governments, the third and commercial sectors on issues to do with client and citizen engagement in increasingly digital societies. In addition, she has worked in Chile, Mexico and the US in commercial market and audience research.

Professional History

Professor Helsper obtained an MSc in Media Psychology at Utrecht University in the Netherlands in 1998. During the following 5 years she worked in Chile as an associate researcher for the Social Psychology and Media and Communications Departments at the Pontificia Universidad Catolica (PUC). She was involved in designing and analysing the first public opinion poll about the military coup in Chile and the effect of media framing on opinions towards the events on the day of the coup. Other projects she was involved in looked at the relation between fear of crime and media exposure in disadvantaged neighbourhoods, the importance of news anchors in television viewers’ everyday lives and the introduction of cable television and broadband internet into Chilean society. Simultaneously she worked in the commercial sector for Adimark and OMD as a media research consultants working on projects in relation to image management of broadcast personalities and general media market research.

This was followed by a period of work in New York and Mexico for OMD USA as a Latin American Audience researcher, looking amongst other things at the distribution and popularity of sports viewing around the world. She joined the LSE as a doctoral researcher in 2003 and was involved in the UK Kids Online Project which examined at children’s and their parent’s internet use and attitudes. While she was working on her PhD she did consultancy work for OSSWatch (Oxford University), Ofcom, the BBC and Plan International. The outputs of this consultancy work ranged from reports on the impact of R18 rated and food advertising material on young people to the use of Open Source Software in higher education and the evaluation of journalist training programmes in post-conflict areas.

In 2007, Professor Helsper obtained a PhD from the Department of Media and Communications at LSE with a thesis bearing the title: ’Internet use amongst teenagers: Social inclusion, self-confidence and group identity’. This was followed by a position as Survey Research Fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute (OII, University of Oxford). There she managed and analysed the biennial Oxford Internet Surveys (OxIS), the UK partner in the World Internet Project. She was responsible for designing and analysing the 2007 and 2009 surveys. She also worked on developing a research framework and project on the role of the Internet in intimate relationships through the ‘Me, My Spouse and the Internet’ project.

Expertise Details

digital inequalities; information and communication technologies (ICTs); interpersonal mediated communication; media and everyday life; methodologies in media and communications research


Click here for a comprehensive list of Dr Ellen Helsper's publications.


Research overview

Professor Helsper focuses on developing approaches to quantitative and qualitative research in relation to media and everyday life with a special interest in the links between social and digital inequalities, media literacy and interpersonal interactions in digital spaces.

Her main research interest is in the role of digital media in everyday life of disadvantaged social groups and vulnerable individuals. An important element is the continued development of a theoretical framework to understand the links between digital and social exclusion based on theories of socio-cultural capital and social identity and psychological vulnerability. Her work has developed from theorising the multiple barriers to digital engagement to understanding what explains the differences in tangible benefits people get from engaging with digital content. Her current interest is in developing theories and methodologies that incorporate an individual’s position within social environments and their physical, digital environments in which people live and grow up in our understanding of digital (dis)engagement. This work is backed up by analysis of international datasets which have comparable data in this area generated as part of the From Digital Skills to Tangible Outcomes (DiSTO) project. Cross-cultural comparisons of the processes that lead to engagement and to mediation of our everyday life, pose interesting questions about the generalisability of research in different socio-cultural contexts and the ways in which local circumstances and phenomena can explain global trends in socio-digital inequalities. This work has also informed cross-national projects that look at these processes amongst youth, such as the Yskills, Global Kids Online and EU Kids Online projects.

Furthermore, she has a special interest in the development of methodology in relation to media and policy research, especially in methodologies related to the measurement and understanding of social impact and audience engagement. Important to her in this context is an understanding of engagement with media as multifaceted (for example incl. entertainment, communication and learning) and contextualised in everyday realities. This contextual and gradated approach to media engagement brings up difficulties for generalised policy and mono-methodological approaches.

Regarding future research she is interested in working further on the issue of the role of digital media in people's everyday social and personal relationships especially amongst mobile populations. This includes the relationship of mediated communication to social and psychological well-being and the cross cultural similarities and differences in the processes that make people lead 'digital' or 'non-digital' lives. The theoretical and empirical complications in disentangling forced exclusion and choice in these matters is what fascinates her most.

Research projects


Professor Helsper is the Programme Director of the MSc Media and Communications (Research track) and she convenes and teaches on the graduate level course MC4M2 Advanced Methods of Research in Media & Communications (including Qualitative & Quantitative Analysis) and PhD level MC5M2 Advanced Methods of Research in Media & Communications (including Qualitative & Quantitative Analysis) courses as well as the graduate level course MC425 Interpersonal Mediated Communication.

Professor Helsper has also been Director of Graduate Studies (2014-2017) for the Department and Director of the MSc in Global Media and Communications (LSE and USC) where she convened and taught MC411 Media and Globalisation (2018-2019).


Dr Helsper played an integral role in the production of the play 'Cookies', which premiered at London's Theatre Royal Haymarket on 29 October 2017. In collaboration with Masterclass, Kidscape and working with participating students, Dr Helsper conducted a dynamic project to assess key areas of enquiry around cyberbullying, including awareness, knowledge, risk perception, attitudes, literacy, skills and resilience; as well as social context, support structures and turning points.

This collaboration, and the way in which 'Cookies' has been part of Dr Helsper’s wider research, is illustrated in a series of short films made by LSE: