Are the Dead Taking Over Facebook? A Big Data Approach to the Future of Online Death

Big Data & Society. Doi.org/10.1177/2053951719842540

13 Pages Posted: 30 Jun 2019

See all articles by Carl Ohman

Carl Ohman

University of Oxford, Oxford Internet Institute, Students

David Watson

University College London

Date Written: May 23, 2019

Abstract

We project the future accumulation of profiles belonging to deceased Facebook users. Our analysis suggests that a minimum of 1.4 billion users will pass away before 2100 if Facebook ceases to attract new users as of 2018. If the network continues expanding at current rates, however, this number will exceed 4.9 billion. In both cases, a majority of the profiles will belong to non-Western users. In discussing our findings, we draw on the emerging scholarship on digital preservation and stress the challenges arising from curating the profiles of the deceased. We argue that an exclusively commercial approach to data preservation poses important ethical and political risks that demand urgent consideration. We call for a scalable, sustainable, and dignified curation model that incorporates the interests of multiple stakeholders.

Keywords: Death Online, Digital Afterlife, Mortality, Ethics, Digital Preservation, Facebook

Suggested Citation

Öhman, Carl and Watson, David, Are the Dead Taking Over Facebook? A Big Data Approach to the Future of Online Death (May 23, 2019). Big Data & Society. Doi.org/10.1177/2053951719842540 , Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3392812

Carl Öhman (Contact Author)

University of Oxford, Oxford Internet Institute, Students ( email )

1 St. Giles
Oxford, Oxfordshire OX1 3JS
United Kingdom

David Watson

University College London ( email )

1-19 Torrington Place
London, WC1 7HB
United Kingdom

HOME PAGE: http://dswatson.github.io

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