New research predicts that in 50 years, the popular social media site Facebook will have more dead users than living, creating a virtual graveyard.
Carl Öhman and David Watson from the University of Oxford's Internet Institute calculated that by the end of the century, the number of memorial accounts would range from 1.4 billion to 4.9 billion. The findings raise a question on how digital data should be handled in the future.
The Dead Don't Die On Facebook
According to Facebook, as of March 2019, the biggest social media site in the world has 1.56 billion daily active users and 2.38 billion monthly active users. To calculate how many users will not be around by the end of the century, the researchers used the number of monthly users as of the end of 2018, which reached 1.43 billion users, and the mortality data from the United Nations.
They revealed that more than 500 million users will be dead by 2060 and 1 billion will be dead by 2079. By 2100, 98 percent of all currently active users of Facebook will be dead.
Asians will account for nearly half of the total number of memorial accounts on the popular social media sites. India and Indonesia will account for almost 279 million dead Facebook users by 2100.
However, this calculation is based on the assumption that no new users will sign up on the social media site, which is unrealistic. The researchers offer another scenario when the number of Facebook users grow by 13 percent every year until every person in the world has an online profile.
They calculated that 4.9 billion memorial pages will be on the social media site by 2100. In this case, the dead will not outnumber the living until the early part of the 22nd century.
Under this condition, Africa will have the most number of dead Facebook users. Nigeria, in particular, will contribute over 6 percent of the total number of memorial pages.
The findings appear in the journal Big Data & Society.
Preserving Digital Data For Future Historians
The researchers explained that the study is not intended to predict the future, but "as a commentary on the current development and an opportunity to shape what future we are headed towards." They noted that other social media platforms will likely have the same fate.
"Facebook should invite historians, archivists, archaeologists and ethicists to participate in the process of curating the vast volume of accumulated data that we leave behind as we pass away," stated Watson. "This is not just about finding solutions that will be sustainable for the next couple of years, but possibly for many decades ahead."