A new analysis by researchers at the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) predicts the dead may outnumber the living on Facebook within 50 years.
The data study suggests over 1 billion Facebook users, and perhaps as high as 5 billion users, will have died by 2100.
In that scenario, and based on current Facebook growth rates, the number of dead Facebook accounts will likely surpass the number of live accounts by 2070.
It’s a sign of the digital times.
While humans may physically live about 100 years, their digital lives last forever.
People can continue to interact with a person’s digital remains long after the physical remains have decayed.
It’s a morbidity issue that will only grow with the passage of time. Should a person’s digital social presence continue online after they’ve passed? Are there steps and processes one should take while alive to ensure social accounts are closed upon death? Or does one want to let his or her digital presence continue for as long as there’s an Internet?
“These profiles are becoming part of our collective record as a species, and may prove invaluable to future generations,” the researchers state in their analysis.
So, the digital records of the dead will need a curator, someone to comb through and catalog the data of the deceased.
Who will do that? Will it be a commercial effort or one done by the government or a special non-profit organization?
Will some information be moved to an “Internet of the Dead” for storage and research?
What information will be left on the living Internet due to its relevance to future generations?
And who will make those decisions?
The Oxford researchers don’t offer answers to those questions. Instead, they argue planning needs to start now to deal with what will only be a constantly increasing collection of digital remains from people no longer living in the real world.
By using Facebook’s live to dead accounts ratio as an example, the researches want to raise the issue now instead of waiting to respond after the dead begin to represent the majority of online lives.
For more on the research, go here.