A point will come within the next five decades where the number of memorial accounts on Facebook will outnumber those belonging to living individuals. That’s the finding of the University of Oxford’s Internet Institute, which studied the demographics of current (living) Facebook users, while projecting future growth of the site to calculate this inflection point.
OII believes that some 1.4 billion users will die before 2100. Using this estimate as a guide, accounts belonging to dead users (well, to their estates) will outnumber living ones by around 2070 or so. But using Facebook’s current expansion rate, the number of memorial accounts would actually approach 5 billion by the end of the century.
The numbers are staggering, and they offer a glimpse into the potential uses of Facebook far into the future — if the company is able to last until then, or someone can preserve all its data. Perhaps a late 21st-century human might use Facebook more to learn about their ancestors and their likes and dislikes than for sharing silly memes and arguing about politics.
Of course all of this could have huge ramifications for our future, the researchers said. “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,” lead author Carl Ohman says. “But the totality of the deceased user profiles also amounts to something larger than the sum of its parts. It is, or will at least become, part of our global digital heritage.”
One point that should be made here: the 2070 date assumes that no further internet users join the social network. That seems a bit unrealistic, so the researchers also estimated potential future growth using current numbers. That’s where the 5 billion number comes from.
Facebook first turned on its memorial profiles a few years back, and the social media giant made changes to memorial pages (Facebook Tributes) earlier this month to make them easier to manage, while restricting administration to just family members and close friends. Facebook says more than 30 million users visit a memorial page each month.