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Open Access Discourses surrounding sustainability and digitalization in Europe on Twitter over time

This article is Open Access under the terms of the Creative Commons CC BY licence.

Digitalization and sustainability transformations are contested change processes, accompanied by wide public discourse. But what concerns the public? Our analysis of the social media discourse on Twitter in the last decade reveals key discursive hubs such as smart cities and climate change, as well as blind spots such as sufficiency strategies. It also points to differences between societal and academic discourse, and where increased engagement of researchers and sustainability professionals would be needed to move forward.

This study analyzes the discourses surrounding the interrelation between digitalization and sustainability in Europe on Twitter between 2010 and 2021. We identify 34,802 tweets related to the interrelation between digitalization and sustainability among 634,017 tweets discussing sustainability issues with explicit mentions of Europe. Based on a qualitative analysis of tweets, we identify the main domains discussed (and not discussed). We then sketch the development of the identified domains, as well as their relationship to each other over time, based on a quantitative analysis of their (co-)occurrences. We find that smart city and mobility were two of the most dominant and interrelated domains, particularly in the middle of the decade. In parallel, the domain of climate change has gained ever more attention since 2017 and has emerged as a discursive hub. We further develop hypotheses for how external factors and events (especially EU-level programs) likely led to increases in attention to some domains. Finally, we find that the Twitter discourse across domains mirrors common blind spots regarding sustainable digitalization discourses in its uncritical stance toward economic growth and its overreliance on efficiency in comparison to sufficiency concerns.

Keywords: digitalization; discourse; social media; sustainability

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: March 13, 2023

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  • GAIA is a peer-reviewed inter- and transdisciplinary journal for scientists and other interested parties concerned with the causes and analyses of environmental and sustainability problems and their solutions.

    Environmental problems cannot be solved by one academic discipline. The complex natures of these problems require cooperation across disciplinary boundaries. Since 1991, GAIA has offered a well-balanced and practice-oriented forum for transdisciplinary research. GAIA offers first-hand information on state of the art environmental research and on current solutions to environmental problems. Well-known editors, advisors, and authors work to ensure the high quality of the contributions found in GAIA and a unique transdisciplinary dialogue – in a comprehensible style.

    GAIA is an ISI-journal, listed in the Science Citation Index Expanded, Social Science Citation Index and in Current Contents/Social and Behavioral Sciences.

    All contributions undergo a double-blind peer review.

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