Once the timer to take a BeReal goes off, users have two minutes to capture a photo without it being considered late. ((Photo Credit: Isabel Bequer/Canva))
Once the timer to take a BeReal goes off, users have two minutes to capture a photo without it being considered late.

(Photo Credit: Isabel Bequer/Canva)

Academy (attempts) to keep it real

March 9, 2023

BeReal is a social media app that encourages people to “be real” by taking a picture of themselves and their surroundings at a random time that differs each day. In the summer of 2022, the app took off in popularity, gaining millions of users wishing to chronicle their day to day lives in a new way. Developed in France by Alexis Barryat and Kevin Perreau, the app describes itself as, “a new and unique way to discover who your friends really are in their daily life.”

This new take on social media is something many people crave. 58% of Americans said social media negatively affects their mental health. This dissatisfaction often results from the feeling that social media is “fake,” and used to portray a perfect, yet inauthentic, version of people’s lives. This then drives comparison to others, and insecurity among users. This is part of the draw of an app like BeReal — by its very design, the app encourages a realistic, imperfect approach to social media. 

Once the timer goes off, the app allows two minutes to capture a picture; otherwise, they must start over and miss the designated time. This is meant to prevent the photo from being overly staged or manufactured. Rather, people are encouraged to not think about what they post, allowing it to be casual and carefree. Additionally, all photos must be taken within the app, so people cannot edit or add a filter to their photos.

Through its idea of genuinity, BeReal also attempts to connect people and encourage community in a different way from other forms of social media. The app tries to give users a more honest view of their friends’ lives, seeing an “unfiltered” version of them. It also provides a quick, random checkpoint throughout the day, allowing users a way to check in their friends without necessarily having to actively contact them. The interactions within the app are also fairly simple and quick. Rather than utilizing the comment section available on posts, most users choose to use “realmojis,” or reaction photos taken in the app.

The app also differs from other social media in that its use is much more finite. Users do not often mindlessly scroll through the app or post on it incredibly frequently. Rather, users can only post once per day, when the timer goes off. This then prevents people from excessive posting or from spending large amounts of time on the app. However, users can choose to be notified when their friends post last, drawing them back to the app throughout the day. There is also the option to scroll through public BeReals, although this is often less appealing to users than seeing those of their friends.

Combined, these features bring great appeal to users — as seen by the app’s rapid increase in popularity in the summer of 2022. Despite being made in January, the app did not see much momentum until much more recently. The app went from 2 million to 56 million downloads in 2022 alone. This popularity also inspired other social media platforms to launch their own features imitating the app. Most notably, social media giant TikTok rolled out its TikTok Now feature, which sends out a notification for users to record a video randomly throughout the day, similar to what BeReal does with photos. This is perhaps the biggest reflection of BeReal’s overwhelming success — other apps are attempting to replicate their fame. This massive influx of users also reveals how much people crave authenticity, and a fresher approach to social media.

However, while the intent of BeReal is to find a new approach to social media, there are many factors that prevent it from fulfilling this promise. For one, while BeReal is meant to be taken at a specific time, people can still take it after the time the alert goes off, although BeReal states how long after the time each post was taken. However, people often disregard this, and will wait to use their BeReal for something fun or entertaining they are doing — not exactly “being real.” Thus, the app can become another tool for comparison that still manages to hide beneath the facade of authenticity.

Additionally, because BeReal can go off at any time, it encourages people to be ready to respond to notifications at all times, as they wait for the timer to go off. This is another way to keep people on their phones, and can potentially interrupt someone’s focus on other tasks throughout the day. Rather than a fun, random moment during the day, it can become another duty to fulfill, and can almost become tiring. The randomness of the notifications can also cause some people to feel as if they are missing out if they are unable to be on their phone throughout the day — including Academy students.

The app’s design can also be invasive of people’s privacy. It encourages people to share everything, including, and perhaps most especially, their more mundane moments. This puts an even bigger chunk of people’s lives online, becoming something for others to see and potentially judge. It removes the boundary between time for one’s self and time for others to observe. This calls into question whether the app’s design is even beneficial, and whether it is truly necessary to show the “real” moments of one’s life. While some may crave authenticity online, others may wish to have more control over what they share, and not feel pressured to present every part of their lives for others’ consumption.

This invasion of privacy can also pose a danger to some people. The app provides an option to tag posts with the user’s location. This, combined with the fact that posts are timestamped, can be dangerous, as it tells others exactly where a person is and when. This is especially dangerous for those that have their posts enabled to be shown in the Discovery feed, where anybody can see it. While both location tracking and the Discovery feed can be disabled, it still poses a threat for users that are unaware of these features, or that do choose to keep them on.

Thus, despite its attempts to be different from other social media platforms, BeReal still is a social media platform, and thus runs into similar issues. Additionally, like any other form of social media, it does not supplement the value of face to face interaction. However, BeReal does offer a unique take on social media, that provides a fresh take on what can be a repetitive industry. 

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