The dead could take over Facebook by 2070
Experts warn no single commercial company should control this immense, invaluable historical archive
The number of dead Facebook users could outnumber the living by 2070, leaving a vast archive of such historical importance that archivists should be brought in to conserve the data, Oxford University has said.
Currently the global social media site has about 2.27 billion members, but 1.4 billion will die before 2100, according to the new calculations.
It means that within about 50 years the number of dead could pass the living, in a milestone that has important implications for what should happen with such a huge digital legacy.
By 2100 the number of deceased profiles could reach as high as 4.9 billion and would represent a huge chunk of the 21st century’s heritage.
Lead author Carl Ohman, a doctoral candidate from the Oxford Internet Institute (OII), warned there were problems with a single commercial company holding the largest archive of human behaviour ever assembled.
“It may be of enormous benefit to future generations, and to historians especially,” said Ohman.
“However, Facebook is a private company and is thus guided by what is commercially, not historically, valuable.
“Why would Facebook bother to store up to five billion dead profiles on their servers if there were no commercial inventive to do so? The problem is not that Facebook is a commercial company, it is rather the increasing concentration of historical data. Too few control too much.”
Currently, after a person dies a Facebook account is memoralised unless the user has selected “delete after death” in their settings. The word “remembering” is placed next to the profile name and a “legacy contact” appointed to look after the page.
It allows friends and family to view public posts made before their death and to post memories.
The OII is calling on Facebook to invite historians, researchers and archivists to devise a way to curate the archives so they are not lost to future generations.
The team said all social media networks with a similar global reach should start thinking about how the data of their users should be stored and used after death.Co-author David Watson, also a doctoral student at the OII, added: “Facebook should invite historians, archivists, archaeologists and ethicists to participate in the process of curating the vast volume of accumulated data that we leave behind as we pass away.“This is not just about finding solutions that will be sustainable for the next couple of years, but possibly for many decades ahead. Controlling this archive will, in a sense, be to control our history.“It is therefore important that we ensure that access to these historical data is not limited to a single for-profit firm. It is also important to make sure that future generations can use our digital heritage to understand their history.”However, the team said social network archives could provide a detailed view of history that has previously been impossible to see.Ohman added: “Data from social media differs from traditional historical data, not only in terms of the content, but also in terms of the quantity.
“What we know about people in the past is basically based on men with power, who could preserve information about themselves to future generations.
“But we know way less about the thoughts and daily lives of the millions of women, workers and other marginalised groups in history. With social media as an historical asset, we have a chance not to repeat this mistake.”
The predictions were based on data from the United Nations, which provided the expected number of deaths and total populations for every country in the world distributed by age. They were then mapped against Facebook data.
The research was published in the journal Big Data & Society.
– © Telegraph Media Group Limited (2019)