Yet again, the ever changing media landscape has been made richer through the addition of a new social media app with an innovative concept. If Instagram is too superficial, Twitter too pessimistic, and Facebook too 2009, BeReal might be the right app for you. But what is so exciting about this app that has made it climb the charts? And can it deliver on what it promises?
How to BeReal
“Time to BeReal. 2 min left to capture a BeReal and see what your friends are up to!”
This is the notification users of the newcomer social media app BeReal receive once a day.
Every day at a different time, the app will ask you to share an authentic glimpse into your life through a snapshot taken with the front and back camera of your device simultaneously. Once these two photos are uploaded and shared with your friends you can see and react to what they were doing at the same moment.
In case you miss the two-minute time frame for posting you can still share what you are doing, however, your post will be marked as “late”.
The Appeal of Authenticity
When thinking about platforms such as Instagram & co, BeReal can be considered their antithesis in two aspects, which are equally the main ways the app is marketed.
First of all, the app does not give users the ability to edit their photos in any way, aiming for a more authentic, realistic, and unfiltered social media environment. Whereas on other social media platforms aesthetics and filters are the norm, BeReal encourages us to share an uncurated and honest version of our lives.
Secondly, everyone on the app only posts once a day at a randomly generated time. This limit on content creation attempts to encourage users to spend less time on the app and, thus, on their phones in general. What seems to be a contradictory aim for a social media application has resonated amongst teenagers.
Developed by two French entrepreneurs in December of 2019, the initial popularity BeReal gained in Europe quickly spread across the Atlantic to the US. The overall number of downloads skyrocketed to 2.1 million in March of this year.
I downloaded BeReal upon my friend’s recommendation, who told me that it is a refreshing reminder that not everyone is doing something fun, exciting, and extraordinary all the time. In fact, the app shows us the opposite. In reality, most of the time people are not doing something that would give you FOMO. Is someone you follow on Instagram on a vacation, sipping cocktails under palm trees, watching sunsets, and driving jet skis all the time? Well, on BeReal you might see that this person is also in bed watching TV in the hotel at 3pm on their holiday.
After using the app for a couple of weeks, more and more of my friends joined the platform, proving the growing popularity of the app. Besides offering a more realistic look into people’s lives, I also appreciate the app as an easy way to stay in contact with friends.
As your previous BeReals stay visible to you, it offers you a look back at your own life. Being given a reason to take a picture every day, even if it is of something seemingly unimportant, can be a fun way to see what you were up to on a random Tuesday afternoon. So apart from its social side, BeReal is a means to be aware of how time passes and our lives change.
All That Glisters is Not Gold
Although the creators of BeReal seemed to have honorable intentions when developing the app, when we examine it more closely we notice some aspects which put the praise into question.
While using the app, I cannot help but think that there is some contradiction regarding their once-a-day policy. Of course, being able to post only once and seeing only one post per friend makes it less appealing to constantly check the app throughout the day. However, the premise that you should ideally post within 2 minutes after receiving the notification implies that users are constantly checking their phones so as not to miss the notification. Of course, if I am home alone and not doing anything exciting, I am more likely to post within the given 2 minutes and will, thus, post what the app aims to show: the unexciting everyday grind. However, if I am out with friends, having fun and not checking my phone I might not post what I am up to in time. Instead, I will probably post late, once I have time because I am home alone, not doing anything exciting. Maybe you see where I am going with this. Does BeReal actually offer a realistic look into my life or is it just an allure in which the system of the app MAKES us only post the normal stuff?
On the other hand, if someone posts late, does that mean they were actually too busy being real in real life instead of being occupied with being real online? Or, did they purposely post late to have something more interesting to post? This would classify as a way of editing on BeReal, by disregarding its premise of posting whatever it is you are doing without wanting to present yourself favorably.
Both of these aspects would significantly diminish the authenticity the app is praising itself for.
If this is, or eventually will be, what people are doing on the app, a whole new question arises. Can the problem of filtered and unrealistic life/ self-presentation on social media be solely attributed to a platform’s structure and functions? Or is it rather a problem innate to our generation and society? If the latter is true, then the promise of an authentic antidote to social media’s fakeness might attract initial attention for its novelty and trendiness, but ultimately it will be unable to fulfill the natural urge of people to filter their lives online. In the end, many of the BeReal users will be Instagram users and, thus, part of the platform criticized for being inauthentic. Would changing the app make these people suddenly eager to post their unedited selves?
Of course, BeReal is not curing all the ill we attribute to social media. When broken down, the app essentially makes you feel better about yourself because you get to witness the mundane and boring parts of other people’s days. It, therefore, just encourages comparing yourself to others. It is probably clear why this might be problematic. Ideally, you would be posting whatever you want without your friends feeling the need to compare their own life to yours, and vice versa. However, it might be too much to ask for one app alone to solve the issue of social comparison.
Personally, I believe BeReal to be a good step towards a more realistic online representation. Although it probably will not replace Instagram, it seems to be a good way to cast a critical light on the content we engage with on other platforms. Even on Instagram, we are witnessing a movement towards the unaesthetic (think about photo dumbs). This is indicative that a new platform with the premise of being real is exactly what young people currently want.
Although we can criticize some aspects of BeReal , in my eyes, it should be seen and praised for what it is: A fun and engaging way to give and receive insights into people’s everyday lives without feeling pressured by aesthetic standards.
Edited by: Hana Maurer