The news is chilling, but according to a study by the Oxford Internet Institute, the number of dead Facebook users could exceed that of living ones within 50 years. The academic predictions also raise some questions, such as the fate of the data after the death of users.
Will Facebook become a giant cemetery? This is a legitimate question to ask after the publication of the study by several Oxford University professors. By 2070, the number of deceased Facebook users could exceed the number of living ones, as 1.4 billion people with accounts will no longer be in this world at the end of the century.
However, if current growth persists (around 13%), no fewer than 4.9 billion Facebook users would no longer be in this world at the end of the century. But in this case, the deceased users would not exceed the number of living users, despite their large numbers.
A global digital heritage
For the study, the goal was not to show the number of people who will be dead with a Facebook account in 2070, but rather to know how to manage the data after death.
"The results should be interpreted not as a prediction of the future, but as a commentary on the present, and an opportunity to respond with thoughtful and effective policy interventions," said Carl Ohman, one of the academics. "The management of our digital remnants will eventually affect everyone who uses social networks, since each of us will die one day and leave our data behind." It is, or at least will be, part of our global digital heritage, he says.
Thus, it is essential that Facebook gives historians, archivists, archaeologists and academics access to this data. David Watson, also a doctoral candidate at the British University, explains, "Never before in history has such a vast archive of human behavior and culture been assembled in one place." He added that controlling these archives will consist, in some way, of controlling our history. "It is therefore important to ensure that access to this historical data is not limited to a single for-profit company. It is also important to ensure that future generations can use our digital heritage to understand their history."
It will be curious in the coming years to observe Facebook's policy in this regard. If the predictions are realistic, Mark Zuckerberg's social network will have to find a way to collaborate with historians and documentalists.