One day, in the not-too-distant future, the dead will outnumber the living on Facebook.
According to one projection, at least 1.4 billion members could be dead by 2100 - meaning the number of accounts no longer active on the platform would outnumber the living by around 2070. In another scenario looked at in the 2019 research by the University of Oxford, it's possible the number could be as high as 4.9 billion by the end of the century.
As Facebook turns 20 on 4 February this year, it's clear it is woven into the fabric of our society. And the anniversary could also perhaps spark a question that too few of us devote enough thought to: what happens to our Facebook profiles after our deaths?
Meta, which owns Facebook, offers a variety of options, but it’s crucial to make the decisions before you die, because some options are not available afterwards - plus, you may not want your likeness to exist in digital limbo forever, earning advertising money for Mark Zuckerberg. (Meta's market capitalisation was around $966 billion at the time of writing.)
Facebook turns 20 - read more
So what actually happens to your Facebook account when you die? If you don’t prepare, it’s perfectly possible nothing will change, leaving grieving relatives with an extra job to ‘tidy up’. Alternatively, you could end up with a ‘memorialised’ page which will stay on Facebook forever.
In order to take control, here are some simple ways you can determine what happens after your death (without having to leave passwords for your family members in your will).
How to change what happens when you die
You have two options with a Facebook account: to have the account ‘memorialised’, so it says ‘Remembering’ next to your name, and it won’t show up in People You May Know searches, or you can have the account permanently deleted.
To change these settings go to your main profile (on a PC) and click your profile photo in the top right of Facebook. Select Settings & Privacy, then select the panel that says Meta Account, then Personal Details, then Account Ownership and then Memorialisation.
If you don’t have a Meta account set up, Select Settings & Privacy, then click Settings. Click Accounts Center, then click Personal details. Click Account ownership and control, then click Memorialisation.
From there, you can choose to memorialise your account or delete it after death. To memorialise an account, you’ll have to choose a contact from your friends list, who will then be able to manage tribute posts, respond to friend requests and update your profile picture or cover photo.
Your profile will say, ‘Remembering YOUR NAME’ with the date of your death.Your profile will be memorialised (or deleted, if that’s what you’ve chosen) as soon as someone gets in touch with Meta to tell the company you are dead.
How to deal with a dead person’s Facebook account
Even if you don’t have passwords, you can still get access to a dead person’s Facebook account either to memorialise it or to have it deleted. By default, Facebook will memorialise pages when it’s made aware of the person being dead - but if you’re a family member, you can also apply to have the page memorialised here.
To do so, you’ll need a copy of the person’s death certificate.
In order to have an account deleted, the person needs to specify this before death.
Facebook says: "After someone has passed away, we want to respect their wishes for what should happen to their account. If a family member or friend uses this form to submit a request, the account goes into a special memorialised state unless the person has requested to have their account removed when they pass away.
"Please keep in mind that memorialisation is a big decision. If you're not a family member or close friend of the person who passed away, we recommend reaching out to the person's family before requesting memorialisation."