Who will tend to Facebook’s ‘digital graveyard’?

Web Log: Controlling this archive will, in a sense, be to control our history

Facebook is ‘a vast archive of human behaviour and culture assembled in one place’.

Facebook is ‘a vast archive of human behaviour and culture assembled in one place’.

 

In about 50 years the dead could outnumber the living on Facebook, according to estimates by scholars at the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) who say that in the event of complete Facebook growth stagnation, about 1.4 billion users will die between 2018 and 2100, making them the majority.

However, if Facebook continues to expand at current rates, it will take longer for the number of deceased users to surpass living users but there will be as many as 4.9 billion memoralised accounts before the end of the century. Both scenarios, say researchers, highlight the need to talk about the ethical, social and historical implications of storage and access to our digital remains.

“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,” said lead author of the research, Carl Öhman.

“Never before in history has such a vast archive of human behaviour and culture been assembled in one place. 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,” added study co-author David Watson.

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