Jun 19, 2019 | Updated: 09:31 AM EDT

The Dead Could Outnumber the Living on Facebook by 2070

Apr 27, 2019 01:56 PM EDT

The Dead Could Outnumber the Living on Facebook by 2070
(Photo : Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay)

Academics from the Oxford Internet Institute (OII), a section of the University of Oxford, have made a recent analysis that predicts the dead may outnumber the living on Facebook within fifty years, a drift that will have severe consequences on how we handle our digital heritage in the future.

The prediction of the analysis is based on 2018 user levels of at least 1.4 billion members will die before 2100. What this scenario presents is that the dead could outnumber the living by 2070. However, if the largest social network in the world continues to expand at current rates, the number of deceased users could reach as high as 4.9 billion before the end of the century.

The lead author of the study and a doctoral candidate at the OII, Carl Ohman, said that these statistics give rise to new and challenging questions around who has the permission to all this data, how they should handle it regarding the benefit of the families and friends of the deceased and its use by future historians to understand the past.

David Watson, who is a co-author of the research and also a DPhil student at the OII, explained that never before in history has such a vast archive of human behavior and culture been assembled in one place. In a sense, controlling this archive will be to manage our past. Therefore, it is essential that people ensure that access to these historical data is not limited to a single for-profit firm. It is also significant to be sure that future generations can use our digital heritage to understand their history.

In the study, two potential extreme scenarios were set up to argue that the future trend will fall somewhere in between:

  • The first scenario assumes that no new users join as 2018. Under these circumstances, the share of the Asia of dead users increases rapidly to account for nearly 44 percent of the total by the end of the century. Almost half of those profiles come from India and Indonesia which together account for under 279 million Facebook mortalities by 2100.
  • The second scenario assumes that Facebook continues to grow by its current rate of 13 percent globally every year until each market reaches saturation. Under these circumstances, the increasing portion of dead users will make up Africa. Nigeria, especially becomes a major hub in this scenario, accounting for over six percent of the total. By contrasts, Western users will account for only a minority of users, with only the US making the top 10.

The study made its prediction on data from the United Nations which provide the expected number of mortalities and total populations for every country in the world distributed by age, and the researchers scoured Facebook data from the Audience Insights feature of the company.

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