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A memorialised Facebook account was the subject of the 2014 horror film Unfriended, but the true statistics may be even scarier. Reuters

A statistician from the University of Massachusetts has predicted that the number of memorialised Facebook accounts – user accounts that are closed following their passing – could exceed the total of living users before the end of this century.

The distressing calculation from PhD candidate Hachem Sadikki is based on a select sample of the demographic data for Facebook's estimated 1.5bn user-base, while also taking into account death rate reports from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Facebook's overall average growth rate.

With Facebook announcing last year that over half the world's online population are now registered users on Mark Zuckerberg's social network (with most visiting at least once per day), as chilling as it may seem, the calculation of living vs. deceased accounts should not really be so surprising.

The 'critical mass' projection would not be quite so soon if Facebook's system of account closure for deceased members always resulted in said account's removal. Instead, Facebook offers the option to memorialise a deceased person's social network page, leaving it on the website for other users to view and even post messages to.

Facebook has also included the option for its living users, who are over the age of 18, to add a 'legacy user' to their account. According to Facebook's Help Centre, a legacy user can:

  • Write a pinned post for your profile (ex: to share a final message on your behalf or provide information about a memorial service);
  • Respond to new friend requests (ex: old friends or family members who weren't yet on Facebook); and
  • Update your profile picture and cover photo.

For those personal accounts that do not have a legacy user set before the owner's death, an immediate or extended family member, or non-family member (Facebook lists friends, colleagues and classmates as examples), can either choose to remove the account where it remains active, but cannot be seen publicly on the social network, or memorialise it so it remains available to view.

How accurate is this grave prediction?

While the concept of a memorialised user is partly responsible for Hachem Sadikki's forecast, a Fusion report notes how there are possible flaws to the data model used, as it assumes that all deceased Facebook users would have their accounts memorialised until the year of 2098.

Equally, the statistician also only compiled US death rate figures which are not universally applicable, while the data-set also presumes that the growth rate of Facebook's user-base will decline in the coming years. The online planning company The Digital Beyond has calculated that approximately 972,000 of the US Facebook user-base will die in 2016 alone.

If you have a loved one, or a friend or family member who has passed away and you are looking to memorialise or remove the account, then visit Facebook's Help Centre page.