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The digital cemetery: When Facebook controls our history

Graphic Studio, France Médias Monde | According to projections from a study by the Oxford Internet Institute, the number of Facebook profiles of deceased people will exceed that of the living at the earliest in 50 years.

The number of Facebook profiles of people who have died may exceed the number of living profiles in just 50 years, according to a new study. As such, the social network could become the keeper of a significant part of humanity’s memory.

The dead will one day take over Facebook. In 50 years, if not sooner, there will likely be more profiles of deceased people than of living users on the social network, according to a study published online by the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) on April 27.

“This study is the first to give a scientifically rigorous projection of the development of dead user profiles,” said Carl Ohman, researcher at the OII Digital Ethics Laboratory and author of the report. Ohman cross-referenced United Nations data on mortality rates by age group and country with the figures he was able to obtain on Facebook users to establish two evolution scenarios.

A digital cemetery mainly populated by Asians and Africans

If, on the other hand, Facebook continues to gain new users at the same rate as at present (13% growth per year), it will not be until the first decade of the 22nd century that the balance of power between the living and the dead is reversed. There would then be nearly five billion profiles of deceased people on the social network.

Neither of these two evolution scenarios is credible, admitted Ohman. “The reality lies somewhere in between these two extremes. If I had to make an informed estimate, I would say that there will be more profiles of deceased people than of living users on Facebook in 60 to 70 years,” said the researcher in an interview with FRANCE 24.

While analysing the data, he also realised that this digital cemetery will be populated mainly by Africans and Asians. “These are the continents where the growth in the number of users is most dynamic,” he said. By his estimations, no European country would feature in the top 10 most represented nations.

Unable to predict the exact growth in the total number of users, currently standing at nearly two billion members, the researcher selected two extreme situations. At first, he imagined that there would never be any new people registered on the social network again. In this extreme hypothesis, nearly 98% of Facebook’s population will have died by the end of the century, and the number of deaths will exceed the number of living people by 2070.

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