Dead People Will Eventually Outnumber the Living on Facebook

People die all the time, and they can't take their social media profile pages with them.

Now that we all live out loud, thanks to social media, many of us can expect to die out loud, too. Facebook users—all 1.5 billion of them—like all humans, have a finite lifespan, and they will someday die, generally without removing their profiles from the site.

As Fusion writer Kristen V. Brown points out, millions of Facebook users are already dead, their pages left intact, their likes saved for posterity. Lots of dead pages serve as virtual memorial sites, where friends and family members of the deceased can come and post messages on their walls.

But will there be a tipping point when the number of Facebook dead exceeds the living? And if so, when?

To answer these daunting questions, Fusion enlisted some statisticians, most of whom stated there were too many variables to consider to come up with a definitive date. University of Massachusetts researcher Hachem Sadikki took all the evidence available, hit “compute,” and came up with a specific year: 2098.

Brown admits there are many factors and considerations that could make Sadikki’s projection several years off the mark:

It assumes that everyone who dies will [have their page remain on the site], for example. And using the CDC’s U.S. death rate data for users across the world is an extremely rough way to calculate the demise of users globally. For one, Americans’ lifespans differ from people in other countries. And two, the CDC categorizes age groups differently than Facebook. Sadikki also operated under the assumption that, at some point relatively soon, Facebook’s exponential growth will plateau, but we have no certain way of knowing if or how soon this will happen. In the U.S., where more than 70 percent of the adult population is already on Facebook, this is already happening.

Others have tried figuring out when the dead will surpass the old on Facebook, and they came up with slightly different numbers. An Internet Monitor report put the year at 2130. The Loop, on the other hand, is less optimistic, suggesting Facebook of the Dead will happen around 2065.

All of this assumes that Facebook will still be a thing decades from now, which seems fairly unlikely, or that the Internet won’t have been supplanted by some other, higher-tech version of itself, which actually seems like a safe bet. Sorry, goths. 

Kali Holloway is a senior writer and the associate editor of media and culture at AlterNet.

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