Are the dead taking over Facebook? A Big Data approach to the future of death online

Big Data and Society 6 (1) (2019)
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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.

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David Watson
University College London

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