Death moodboards – generation Z exercising digital legacy

The prospects are eerie: Meta could potentially have more accounts belonging to the deceased than to the living by 2070. According to current data, Meta's monthly active users are growing at a rate of 7.18%. If we assume that user levels will remain constant in the coming years, by 2100, Meta users may navigate vast digital graveyards, comprising up to 4.9 billion accounts of deceased users. Our Instagram, Facebook, and Threads pages could transform into our digital tombstones, and each post may be our last. What would we like our social media pages to convey about us for eternity?

This question laid the foundations for an experimental exhibition organised with students at the University of Bucharest in November 2023 as part of our Digital Death: Transforming History, Rituals and Afterlife research project. Undergraduate students in their first year of study were invited to reflect on their own digital legacy, more precisely, the manner in which they thought they could use digital artefacts in building their online identity. 

The process of “curating” one’s online identity depends on innumerable psychological mechanisms including motivation, choice and social interaction. While scrolling over the profiles of other fellow social media users, one may never truly understand why someone presents themselves online the way they do. Social media profiles rarely only fulfil a descriptive role, but rather invite users to embellish or obscure entire aspects of their life. Users are entrusted with creating content that is representative of them to a varying degree. However, how would social media profiles look if curated with the thought of death in mind (Turkle, 1995)?

Why should we think of social media content in terms of legacy? One reason is convenience: for example, Instagram accounts can quickly become digital tombstones thanks to Meta’s memorialisation options. It has never been easier to offer our (digital) peers a curated selection of the most important snippets of our lives that will be around (only) as long as our accounts and the platforms exist (Öhman, 2024).  Another reason lies in the very nature of social media. Whether we are aware of it or not, when creating a social media profile, we decide how much of our identity will be transformed into digital artefacts and in what form. It is, however, up for further discussion whether digital remains can accurately preserve an image of their creator for posterity.

Curating your online identity with death in mind: creating Digital Moodboards

Creating content comes with an assumption of agency (Lupton, 2015): social media users might presume that they have complete control over our profiles. However, by choosing a legacy contact we effectively allow a designated person to take over our online presence after we die. The process may prove odd and even eerie to our followers: it may be that one day, they will receive a notification from our memorialised account, drawing attention to a new post made on our profile by our legacy contact. If the profile is not memorialised following Meta’s procedures, other users apart from the legacy contact will also be able to post on the wall. It may be that our profiles will gain completely new kind of content, perhaps something we would never have posted while alive.

These were some of the themes of the exhibition and the few introductory considerations we discussed with the project participants. The theoretical input was kept minimal so as not to form any biases before moving forward. In the next stage, the participants were asked to curate a social media profile consisting of nine pictures, three bits of music and one short text, representative enough of them that they would be comfortable with it being on their digital tombstone. ”What would you like social media users to see when accessing your memorialised account” was the main question. With no other instructions, the participants were encouraged to engage in the exercise as they saw fit.

The results were surprisingly diverse: where some participants chose to include self-explanatory reportage-style photographs and biographical notes, others leaned into more artistic, aesthetically motivated content. Photographs that ”set the mood” for their online presence and poetry were thus part of their Death Moodboards. By far, the most varied results were observable in the compiled playlists based on their music choices, ranging from Frank Sinatra to Mitski.

Some participants were willing to discuss the exercise in a post-factum workshop. Interestingly, those whose Death Moodboards were the most insightful were also well accustomed to grief experiences. Participants who had recently lost a person close to them and been actively engaging with their digital remains (such as playlists they have purposefully left behind, pictures, etc.) were the most eager and most capable of sketching their own digital legacy.

One may be tempted to speculate here: Generation Z’s way of approaching death and grief may be revolutionary or futuristic. However, some participants clearly stated that they turn to their elders in seeking guidance regarding their grief. In this small experiment, Gen Zs find themselves in a point of transition, where social media practices provide them with new means of navigating grief and the thought of death, but not necessarily with new cultural and practical instruments of understanding grief.

The exhibition that resulted was further presented to the general public at the University of Bucharest, aiming to raise awareness of the value and relevance of digital remains as well as the role that they play once their account holder ceases to live. While the exhibition captured the compiled Death Moodboards, much of the exercise remains unobserved by outsiders: an introspective process that the participants undertook and the complex mechanisms of curating our online presence that may remain invisible to the naked eye of other social media consumers.



Lupton, D. (2015). Digital Sociology. Routledge.

Turkle, S. (1995). Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet. Simon & Schuster.

Öhman, C. (2024). The Afterlife of Data. Chicago University Press.