Is Facebook Becoming a Digital Graveyard?

New analysis by academics from the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) predicts the dead may outnumber the living on Facebook within 50 years. (Image: via   pixabay  /  CC0 1.0)
New analysis by academics from the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) predicts the dead may outnumber the living on Facebook within 50 years. (Image: via pixabay / CC0 1.0)

New analysis by academics from the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) predicts the dead may outnumber the living on Facebook within 50 years, a trend that will have grave implications for how we treat our digital heritage in the future. The analysis predicts that, based on 2018 user levels, at least 1.4 billion members will die before 2100.

In this scenario, the dead could outnumber the living by 2070. If the world’s largest social network continues to expand at current rates, however, the number of deceased users could reach as high as 4.9 billion before the end of the century. Lead author of the paper Carl Öhman, a doctoral candidate at the OII, said:

Co-author David Watson, also a DPhil student at the OII, explained:

The analysis sets up two potential extreme scenarios, arguing that the future trend will fall somewhere in between:

  • The first scenario assumes that no new users join as of 2018. Under these conditions, Asia’s share of dead users increases rapidly to account for nearly 44 percent of the total by the end of the century. Nearly half of those profiles come from India and Indonesia, which together account for just 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 conditions, Africa will make up a growing share of dead users. Nigeria, in particular, becomes a major hub in this scenario, accounting for over 6 percent of the total. By contrast, Western users will account for only a minority of users, with only the US making the top 10.

Öhman explained:

Watson added:

The predictions are based 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 Facebook data scraped from the company’s Audience Insights feature. While the study notes that this self-reported dataset has several limitations, this provides the most comprehensive publicly available estimate of the network’s size and distribution.

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