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Special Issue "The Sustainability of Social Media Research"

A special issue of Sustainability (ISSN 2071-1050).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: 15 July 2022 | Viewed by 854

Special Issue Editor

Dr. Tommaso Venturini
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Center For Internet and Society, CNRS, Paris, France
Interests: media studies; digital methods; science and technology studies

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

The objective of this Special Issue is to discuss the sustainability of the research on the Web and social media. “Sustainability” is used here in the original meaning introduced by the 1987 Brundtland Report and revived by Kuhlman and Farrington in this very journal. Rather than balancing environmental protection and socioeconomic development (as in the 1997 UN Agenda for Development), the original definition focuses instead on “the real contradiction which exists between long-term sustainability and short-term welfare.” (Kuhlman and Farrington, 2010:3437). We believe that this contradiction and the consideration of long-term environmental and social consequence is very relevant for online research.

In the last two decades, the drastic increase in the availability of records collected through digital technologies has encouraged the renewal of social research and the emergence of a variety of approaches subsumed under the labels of computational social sciences and digital sociology. In the short term, there is little doubt that these developments have been productive and opened exciting avenues for understanding collective phenomena. Still, little reflection has been devoted to their consequences in the medium and long term.

By raising concern about the long-term sustainability of computational social sciences, we refer to the much greater consumption of energy required by the technical infrastructure necessary to support this research, not only by research institutions but also (and to a much greater extent) by the industrial giants who generate and store the new traces. We also refer to the lingering societal risks raised by the growing traceability of individual and collective behaviors and increasingly highlighted by surveillance studies. Finally, we wish to address the long-term consequences of grounding social research on records that are originally collected for marketing purposes by a handful of powerful industrial actors.

This is why, among the many strands of computational social sciences, this Special Issue focuses in particular on the research on and with social media. While piggybacking the data infrastructure of online platforms has been invaluable in renewing our outlook on collective phenomena, it came at the cost of implicitly endorsing social media and their self-coronation as gatekeepers of “social big data”. Ethical guidelines, such as the one of the Association of Internet Researchers, provide precious advice on how to conduct the academic side of research carefully, yet they tend to skip over the aftereffects imported by the repurposing of nonacademic records. If we are dwarfs standing on the shoulders of Web giants, our steps risk being guided by their short-term economic interests, rather than by our own research curiosity. This does not have to be the case, but it might if we do not pay enough attention to this risk.

Fostering attention to the long-standing environmental and democratic consequences of social media research is the objective of this Special Issue, which welcomes submissions from across the whole spectrum of digital sociology, computational social science, and new media research discussing the risks, side effects, and long-term bias of this type of research.

Kuhlman T and Farrington J (2010) What is sustainability? Sustainability 2(11): 3436–3448. DOI: 10.3390/su2113436.

Dr. Tommaso Venturini
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All submissions that pass pre-check are peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Sustainability is an international peer-reviewed open access semimonthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 2000 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.


  • social media
  • online platforms
  • digital debate
  • surveillance capitalism
  • digital methods
  • computational social sciences
  • infrastructure studies

Published Papers

This special issue is now open for submission, see below for planned papers.

Planned Papers

The below list represents only planned manuscripts. Some of these manuscripts have not been received by the Editorial Office yet. Papers submitted to MDPI journals are subject to peer-review.

Title: Sustainability dimensions of social media researchers in Brazil: autonomy and technological (in)dependence under a illiberal context

Authors: Rafael Grohmann, Thaiane Oliveira, Gabriel Pereira, Adriana Amaral, Amanda Jurno e Ana Guerra

Author Affiliations: DigiLabour Research Lab, Unisinos University, Brazil; Federal University Fluminense, Brazil; Aarhus University, Denmark; Federal University of Minas Gerais, Brazil

Abstract: The Brazilian scientific context is marked by pioneering development of its own technological and scientific infrastructure. In parallel to the rise and dominance of anglophone circuits of science, colonial past and neoliberal reforms, Brazil has witnessed the emergence of free software, hacking practices and open science. Brazilian universities are currently facing a process of destatization, in addition to threats to researchers who present data against an illiberal government marked by conservatism, authoritarianism and negationism. This affects the economic and technological conditions of social media research in the country. The aim of this article is to analyze how social media researchers in Brazil understand sustainability in their research and academic work. Drawing on a systematic analysis of research published around social media, and focus groups with researchers on the field, we have analyzed how their research relate to two dimensions of sustainability: 1) technological, understanding the long-term dependence on Big Tech platforms and building alternatives; 2) economic feasibility, from cooperation agreements with companies and other organizations to the construction of their own scientific research structures. The focus on researchers allows us to examine the human labor behind the research and the struggles around sustainability. The research argues that, despite economic structural problems, Brazilian researchers in social media use ‘gambiarra’ (make-shift) tactics in search of technological sustainability in their research. These initiatives are ways to achieve autonomy and reduce technological dependence on industry and government, following political characteristics of academic work in Latin America.

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