BeReal, as the name of the app suggests, wants me to publish my truth. Once a day, I’m randomly asked to “be real” to synchronously capture my unfiltered life through selfies and my phone’s rear camera. BeReal claims that behind the smoke and mirrors of social media lies a distinctly authentic self, waiting to be revealed.
The premise of BeReal is simple. Every day, users are randomly invited to take a photo for two minutes, although the posting window remains open for several hours. Users can add captions, comment on friends’ posts, and interact using RealMojis or personalized reaction photos. After posting, two channels are unlocked: one personalized with messages from friends, and the other is the Discovery channel, in which strangers are busy doing mostly mundane tasks. The channels are updated once a day, and messages expire after the next BeReal alert is sent, presumably so users can put their phones down and live their “real” life in a few minutes on the app.
BeReal belongs to the genre of “anti-Instagram” apps, innovative photo platforms trying to fill a niche social function that Instagram lacks. In this case, it is authenticity and lack of advertising. “BeReal won’t make you famous,” the app claims. “If you want to become an influencer, you can stay on TikTok and Instagram.”
Every year or so, a new popular social startup emerges from the tree with an opinionated vision of a better, more authentic way to be online. It rarely sticks. In early 2021, the standby app was Dispo, which simulated the use of a disposable camera, forcing users to wait for their photos to develop. dispo won from YouTube co-founder David Dobrik’s fame, but the scandal forced investors to quickly distance yourself from a startup, even with the departure of Dobrik. Later that year, TikTok launched the Poparazzi app, which encouraged users to take paparazzi-like pictures of their friends. It soared to the top of the App Store for a few weeks, but hype soon subsided.
This year’s VC-backed darling is BeReal, which is currently second most downloaded social media app in the App Store, behind TikTok. It launched in December 2019, but almost 75 percent, or 7.67 million BeReal downloads, happened this year, according to Apptopia’s latest figures provided by TechCrunch. The app recently completed its Series B funding round and is expected to quadruple its valuation to approximately $630 million. business insider in the beginning of May.
“We always try to connect with friends in a relaxed atmosphere,” says Christine Merrilis, 20, a Barnard College student and BeReal user who also writes about culture and the Internet. “I think Snapchat was that space for a short time until my friends stopped using it. Now BeReal lets you peek into people’s lives throughout the day.”
However, what is real and what is fake when we spend so much time tied to screens? In the commodified social media landscape, authenticity is not only a marketing buzzword, but authenticity. value on screenadvertised by people, brands and of course apps. BeReal suggests that the true self can be revealed under the right conditions – that if users are caught off guard, they will give up all pretense. And so far, users seem to believe it.
“It has a vintage feel to early Instagram,” says Sasha Khatami, 21, who works in digital marketing. “I think it’s an interesting shift for people like me, who have been posting curated content for so long, now to a reminder to post at the moment.”
BeReal’s elusive marketing strategy has resulted in it becoming a hit with college students. The startup pays students to act as campus spokespersons, invite friends, and host promotional events. However, apart from being trendy, the app’s concept and key features are far from original. It’s a timely rethink FrontBackan app that popularized the simultaneous selfie and rear camera photo before shutting down in 2015. Similarly, its unpredictable daily push notifications mimic the engagement strategy of Minutiae, an anonymous daily photo-sharing app launched in 2017.
However, BeReal doesn’t pose much of a threat to the established hierarchy of social platforms that have built a decade-long fiefdom on our data and attention. BeReal is not going to remake the social internet. Instead, it operates on the fringes of this seemingly unshakable world order and is backed by some of the same firms that funded Instagram and Twitter. (Venture capitalists are constantly on the hunt for the next big social startup, despite his history of false starts.) Its goal, like most startups, is to become commercially viable, which means it must eventually find ways to make money from its users.
The app’s biggest draw may be its current novelty and the fact that it’s not Instagram or Snapchat. However, BeReal cannot escape the influence of mainstream social media. Merrilees has seen a surge in the number of people sharing their BeReals on Instagram. Some even remix them in TikTok, like a kind of memory coil. “A lot of people are porting content across platforms,” Khatami tells me. “It seems very natural to me. I started making TikTok with my BeReal photos after I saw people posting theirs.”
Because BeReal is so isolated, usage is highly dependent on individual circles of friends. Once people start getting tired of it, chances are their friends will too. There is an undercurrent of FOMO in the hype. People download BeReal because they are curious. They don’t want to miss out. It’s also nostalgia bait for those old enough to remember ad-free days on Instagram. John Herrman of The Times found it should be “reproduction of the experience of joining one of the dominant social networks when they all still felt like toys.” BeReal’s daily reminder attempts to trigger the reflex instinct to post and use the app, similar to how Snapchat users feel obligated to maintain their streaks. However, these warnings seem far-fetched rather than spontaneous. They contradict not only the stated mission of BeReal, but also the psychological literature on authenticity and self-perception.
Authenticity is a fluid, ever-evolving social construct that cannot be clearly mediated, much less through an app. AT critical examination Researchers Katrina Jongman-Sereno and Mark Leary have argued that authenticity “cannot be a viable scientific construct”, referring to the various definitions used by psychologists, sociologists, and behavioral researchers in their assessments. So why does this concern about online authenticity seem so prevalent? The Internet erases any distinction between irony and sincerity, man and machine, real and fake. If this is all fiction, what do we care?
Our preoccupation with the credibility of publications may be a reflection of our fears about the Internet and how it weakens our modern sense of self. Authenticity is a metric to measure content and the celebrities, influencers, brands and individuals behind the facade. “Lately, it seems like more people are noticing and celebrating the effectiveness of social media, like the way ‘laid-back Instagram’ has been defined as a trend,” said Maya Meng, an artist and computer programmer based in Los Angeles. The concept of authenticity reassures the viewer that there is some truth in what is seen on the Internet. For a poster, this is a selfish ideal to strive for or live up to – even with content they are paid to promote.
BeReal’s attempt to create an authentic space is far from perfect, but it leads to an unresolvable ontological question: have we ever really been ourselves online? “I view every single thing that you post online as a contribution to this distributed internet avatar that you represent,” Meng said. “Performances are not something negative. The thing is, you mean a proxy audience, even if you’re posting on a private account.”
Users who started using the Internet at an early age, or “digital natives”, may share Man’s Gestalt theory and are more used to reconciling these different personalities. That’s why people have Twitter alts, finsts, and special accounts dedicated to food, aesthetics, or memes. Some of these disaggregated identities may be perceived as more authentic than others. Since the online self is fragmented across multiple platforms and mediums, authenticity matters as it is a cohesive, ready-made identity for consumption by a public audience.
AT criticism of BeReal, Real Life magazine editor Rob Horning states: “An even more real version of BeReal would simply give your friends access to your cameras and microphones without your knowledge so they can spy on you and see how you act when you think no one is watching.” . If the panoptic gaze distorts us, only voyeurism sets us free.”
These voyeuristic conditions were what Man sought to explore by creating look back, a Chrome extension that unexpectedly takes a webcam snapshot once a day when the user opens a new tab. “I was very disturbed by the feeling that someone is looking at you for a long time, and you don’t look back,” she told me. “This is what my computer feels all day long and we don’t have the ability to interact with its representation.”
Even with Glance Back’s unexpected voyeurism, what he captured didn’t feel any more or less authentic than BeReal’s self-directed gaze. Glance Back catches me in an absent-minded, blurry-eyed state, while on BeReal I convey a more serious, alert version of myself. After several weeks of observing the repetitive contours of my life via browser and phone, it became apparent to me that authenticity is a superficial issue that is easier to deal with than our constant state of surveillance. Instead of worrying about our supposed authenticity, it might be better to ask: Why are we so willing to document ourselves in order to prove what we already know?