India to account for large number of ‘Facebook-dead’, says Oxford study

The 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 digital heritage is treated in the future.
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.(REUTERS PHOTO)
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.(REUTERS PHOTO)
Updated on May 01, 2019 08:42 AM IST
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Hindustan Times, London | By

Indians will account for a large number of those who pass away but whose digital remains on Facebook will continue in perpetuity, raising questions of ethics and archive history, a new study at the University of Oxford says.

The 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 digital heritage is treated 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.

The analysis titled ‘Are the dead taking over Facebook?’ published in journal ‘Big Data & Society’ 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% 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,” it says.

The second scenario assumes that Facebook continues to grow by its current rate of 13% globally, every year, until each market reaches saturation. Under these conditions, Africa will make up a growing share of dead users.

“These statistics give rise to new and difficult questions around who has the right to all this data, how should it be managed in the best interests of the families and friends of the deceased and its use by future historians to understand the past,’ says OII researcher and lead author Carl Öhman.

“On a societal level, we have just begun asking these questions and we have a long way to go. The management of our digital remains will eventually affect everyone who uses social media, since all of us will one day pass away and leave our data behind.”

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.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Prasun Sonwalkar was Editor (UK & Europe), Hindustan Times. During more than three decades, he held senior positions on the Desk, besides reporting from India’s north-east and other states, including a decade covering politics from New Delhi. He has been reporting from UK and Europe since 1999.

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