By the year 2070, Facebook will be “dead.” So say a pair of academics at The University of Oxford’s Oxford Internet Institute (OII), Carl J. Öhman and David Watson, whose analysis entitled “Are the Dead Taking Over Facebook? A Big Data approach to the future of death online” was published in late April in the journal, Big Data & Society.
But by “dead,” they don’t mean Facebook will cease to exist. Rather, Facebook’s dead will have come to outnumber its living. Or to put it another way, 50 years from now, Facebook’s current cohort will have aged out of existence (i.e., we’ll all be either dead or headed quickly in that direction) even as Facebook, itself, continues to live on…and on (presumably, continuing to do what it does best: sparking drama among friends and family and giving you a serious case of “FOMO“). Know these Facebook “facts” that simply aren’t true.
Specifically, Öhman and Watson’s analysis, which is based on population and mortality data from the United Nations, found that if Facebook doesn’t add a single new user starting immediately, then by the year 2100, there should be at least 1.4 billion Facebook users who are no longer alive to post selfies and argue over politics. Assuming Facebook continues to grow at its current rate, that number could reach 4.9 billion. So, what will happen to all the data from all the dead users’ Facebook profiles? How should it be managed in the best interests of the deceased? And what about their survivors? And tomorrow’s historians, anthropologists, and sociologists, and the like? These are the questions that vex the authors, both of whom are OII doctoral candidates.
“On a societal level, we have just begun asking these questions and we have a long way to go,” said Öhman, the lead author, in a news release issued by The University of Oxford. Both he and his co-author, Watson agree that how we manage our “digital remains” will play a significant role in determining what future generations know or believe to be “history.” “Never before in history has such a vast archive of human behavior and culture been assembled in one place,” Watson noted. Therefore, there’s value in ensuring “future generations will be able to access and use this archive.”
Accordingly, the two concluded, “it’s important to make sure that future generations can use our digital heritage to understand their history. To accomplish that will require open and critical discussions about what is to be amongst the “online dead.” And Facebook, they note, is just one example of “what awaits any platform with similar connectivity and global reach.” As a call-to-action, Watson suggests that Facebook consider inviting historians, archaeologists, and ethicists to “participate in the process of curating the vast volume of accumulated data that we leave behind as we pass away.”
As for your own Facebook page, you’ll want to find out how to create a “legacy contact” and learn the 16 other secrets Facebook wants you to know.